Milford lab critical to shellfish industry rebirth

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MILFORD--The Long Island Sound is a jobs generator, whether it's tourism, boating, fishing or aquaculture. And a little known, federally-funded Milford laboratory’s research is helping to stabilize Connecticut’s $30 million shellfish industry.

Tuesday morning, Sen. Chris Murphy toured the facility, which dives deep into shellfish research

“We don't study things just for the sake of acquiring knowledge,” said Gary Wikfors, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Milford lab chief of biotechnology. “We study things to solve problems to allow businesses to operate and to expand.”

Their research includes studying many varieties of algae, from which shellfish get their nutrition.

“We study things like poly unsaturated fatty acids, which are hugely important in human nutrition and also important in shellfish nutrition,” said Wikfors.

This aquaculture lab first went into service more than 80 years ago. Now, it’s built into an operation that costs about $4-$5 million to operate annually. In its infancy, the lab’s researchers developed what's known as the Milford Method, which artificially conditions shellfish to spawn.

“Part of the process is using a shock of warm water to induce them to spawn, release eggs and sperm into the water and then to grow the larvae that results from fertilization of those eggs to a small seed size on cultured phytoplankton,” said Wikfors, who says the Milford facility is the only one in the U.S. conducting such expansive aquaculture research.

Their work is critical to a rebirth of the industry, which means cleaner Long Island Sound waters.

“One oyster can clear 50 gallons of water of all particles in a day,” notes Wikfors, who noted that at the present time shellfish naturally cleaning up the Sound save Connecticut approximately $6 million annually in waste water treatment.