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NOAA's Milford Lab a Global Leader

October 16, 2015

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Milford Lab website
Northeast Fisheries Science Center
Wall Street Journal article on the Milford Lab
Senator Murphy visit the Milford Lab
Oyster Facts
Shellfish 101

The Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Gary Wikfors was recently named one of the top 20 most productive oyster researchers in the world. Wikfors works out of NOAA’s Milford Lab in Milford, Connecticut, which has been a global leader in shellfish and aquaculture research for nearly a century. Wikfors was named the 12th most productive oyster researcher in the world according to a recent article in Aquaculture International, which used bibliometrics to trace authorship, collaborations, research subjects, and other characteristics for oyster research since 1991.

The article also showed the strong collaborations between the Milford Lab and French institutions. Wikfors collaborates closely with three French researchers, also in the top 20, and has a long-standing cooperation with the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER). Wikfors and the French researchers share graduate students and post-doctoral researchers between their labs and author papers together. “Working with colleagues in France has provided great opportunities, in terms of the science and technology applied to oyster research, for those of us in the United States interested in supporting our nation’s oyster producers,” said Wikfors. “The French take their oysters very seriously.” he added.

Gary Wikfors in the Milford Lab.

The Milford lab houses over 230 strains of microalgae.

The Milford Laboratory, part of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, has been conducting research on shellfish since the early 20th century. Established in 1919 with one federal researcher on site to study the biological problems of Connecticut’s oyster industry, the lab contributed to knowledge of basic shellfish biology and reproduction. Its scientists developed methods for shellfish spawning and rearing that are now used around the world by the aquaculture industry.

Since the lab’s beginning, its contributions have greatly expanded. The Milford Lab houses an impressive collection of microalgae (food for growing shellfish larvae) that began in the 1950s and currently holds more than 230 strains. Milford researchers pioneered work to determine the right mix of these microorganisms for different shellfish to achieve maximal growth. Today the lab provides microalgal “seed” cultures to hatcheries all around the United States, and strains are shared globally with researchers and the aquaculture industry. A training program—the Milford Microalgal Culture Workshop—is held periodically to teach shellfish hatchery workers how to grow microalgal foods for young shellfish, and the annual Milford Aquaculture Seminar brings together scientists, extension agents, and shellfish growers to exchange knowledge and experience.

Milford scientists are studying shellfish aquaculture and the environment.

NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathy Sullivan tours the Milford Lab.

Although originally established for oysters, the lab began investigating new species for culture in the 1970s such as bay scallops, surfclams, and hard clams. During the 1970s and 1980s, the lab contributed ground-breaking science on the effects of pollution and heavy metals on the physiological, biochemical, genetic, and immunologic functions of marine organisms, including shellfish. As biological techniques advanced, so did the work at Milford. For example, geneticists developed strains of oysters with desirable characteristics, such as faster growth, whose progeny remain under cultivation.

Today the experts at Milford study both fish and shellfish aquaculture, developing methods for commercial farming and restoration. They recently developed the first probiotics for shellfish to help young shellfish grow better and faster. You can read more about their current research here.