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NEFSC's Milford Laboratory

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What We Do

The Milford Laboratory, a world leader in aquaculture science, was established at the request of Connecticut’s oyster industry to help expand sustainable oyster harvests. Over the lab's illustrious history, NOAA scientists, working closely with industry and academia, have made fundamental contributions to the understanding of shellfish biology and reproduction (see "History," below). Today, the Milford Lab continues to conduct state-of-the-art science that informs management for the sustainable expansion of aquaculture, provides services to the shellfish aquaculture industry, and advances new technologies through collaborative research.

Part of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, the Milford Lab is located about 70 miles northeast of New York City on Long Island Sound in Milford, Connecticut. The lab employs approximately 20 full-time Federal research staff, with collaboration from contractors, visiting scientists, support staff and students. The scientific resources of the Milford Lab include a microalgal culture collection, a shellfish hatchery and tank farm, a flow cytometry facility, and a 49-foot research vessel, the R/V Victor Loosanoff.

Current projects include developing probiotics for use in oyster hatcheries, studying aquaculture gear as habitat for marine life, nutrient bioextraction studies, shellfish genetics research, offshore shellfish aquaculture potential, and responses of shellfish to ocean acidification. For more information, please go to the "Research" tab.

Milford Lab History

original Milford research station, 1925
The original shellfish research station (1925). Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Paul Galtsoff

Dr. Robert Guillanrd in his lab, 1952
Dr. Robert R.L. Guillard maintaining the algal collection in 1952. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries
Dr. Victor Loosanoff, the first Director at Milford.
Dr. Victor Loosanoff, the first Director at Milford. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

In 1931, Dr. Victor Loosanoff became the first full-time scientist in Milford using science to solve the biological problems facing Connecticut's oyster industry. Under his leadership, the Milford Laboratory made fundamental contributions to the understanding of shellfish biology and reproduction. Methodology was developed to spawn bivalve shellfish nearly year-round and to rear all life stages (embryonic, larval, and adult). This became known as the “Milford Method” and is still used worldwide in the aquaculture industry. Geneticists developed strains of shellfish with desirable traits, such as rapid growth. Mixtures of algae were cultured to support each shellfish life stage. This became the Milford Lab culture collection, established by Dr. Robert R.L. Guillard in the 1950s and built upon by Dr. Ravenna Ukeles throughout the 1960s-1980s. Scientists and industry professionals from around the world have used samples from this extensive algal library.

Since its founding, the lab has worked closely with the shellfish industry to help solve problems and increase production. Due to increased interest in the 1970s, Milford researchers investigated methods for culturing species such as bay scallops, surfclams, and hard clams. The lab became part of NOAA in the 1970s and research was broadened to reflect the fisheries management priorities of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Studies emphasized the impacts of environmental conditions and manmade stresses on the biological processes of various marine species. In particular, Milford scientists investigated the effects of heavy metals and organic compounds on the biological functions of key marine organisms, documenting which pollutants were causing specific effects.

With a focus on domestic seafood production, the Milford Lab continues to be a world leader in aquaculture science. The lab conducts research that informs the management and expansion of sustainable aquaculture, as well as seeks to understand interactions between aquaculture practices and the environment.

Milford Lab Facilities

Current Research

See our Staff Publications »

Milford's ocean acidification group shot this video of young surfclams swimming and feeding on algae (small dark green specks). With the help of collaborators from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the team is researching how ocean acidification might affect the growth and survival of larval surfclams, as well as their ability to morph from free-swimming larvae to bottom dwelling juveniles.

The primary mandates of NOAA Fisheries are to use sound science to manage and conserve the nation's ocean resources and habitats and to ensure their renewability for the future. Although our techniques have advanced over the years, the Milford Laboratory has always made strong positive contributions to meeting these objectives.

Present research at the Milford Laboratory emphasizes aquaculture and ecosystem-related work. Our well integrated aquaculture research program evaluates current and proposed marine aquaculture practices for technical effectiveness, environmental compatibility, and sustained commercial success. Working closely with industry partners, we provide aquaculture science and develop new methods and technologies to enhance production. In addition, we study the interactions between aquaculture practices and coastal marine habitats and species. Our research supports the sustainable expansion of domestic aquaculture.

Our scientists are trained in a wide variety of disciplines, including chemistry, ecology, physiology, biochemistry, genetics, immunology, bacteriology, algology, and pathology. The versatility of both the facility and the staff at the Milford Laboratory make this unique blend of research possible.

Shellfish Aquaculture

Aquaculture and Environmental Interactions

Ocean Acidification

Outreach and Partnerships

Much of the research conducted by the Aquaculture & Enhancement Division has direct application to the shellfish industry, many of whom do not read peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals. Accordingly, we have sought ways to transfer knowledge and skills directly to the shellfish-aquaculture community and the community as a whole. Details of some of our current outreach and partnership activities can be found below.


Details of some of our current collaborative activities can be found below.

Milford Lab in the News!

Breakthrough oyster probiotic could hit shelves by 2020

A probiotic that increases survival rate in Eastern oyster larvae by as much as 35 percent could be commercially available by 2020. Read more »

Archiving for the Future

Milford Laboratory's huge collection of microalgal strains is playing an important role in keeping shellfish aquaculture thriving. Read more »

NOAA Fisheries Lab Helps Shellfish Growers Become Citizen Scientists

Staff from the Milford Laboratory have created a Citizen Science Guide to help growers capture high quality underwater footage of aquaculture gear. Read more »

How Will Changing Ocean Chemistry Affect the Shellfish We Eat?

For ten weeks, scientists measured feeding, growth, and respiration rates of fed and unfed oysters under three different pH treatments to understand the effects of ocean acidification on metabolism and shell development. Read more »

Window to an Underwater World: Milford Scientists Evaluate Oyster Cages as Habitat using GoPro Cameras

Milford Laboratory scientists are using GoPro cameras to determine if oyster cages used in shellfish aquaculture provide similar habitat for fish to naturally occurring rock reefs. Read more »

Milford Lab's International Appeal

Students, post-docs, and scientists from around the world spend time at NOAA Fisheries' lab in Milford CT, conducting research alongside the laboratory’s staff. Read more »

NOAA takes a deep dive into shellfish population in Greenwich waters

The NOAA fisheries research vessel the Victor Loosanoff has been in Greenwich since Monday, conducting a shellfish population survey. That research will provide data on the value of shellfish beyond just the seafood market. Read more »

Survey Says! What is the value of Greenwich’s shellfish?

The Milford Lab is now working on a pilot study to document the local environmental benefits provided by shellfish by measuring and modeling nutrient capture and water quality improvements provided by clams and oysters in Greenwich. Read more »

Aw Shucks: Scientists Use GoPro to Study Oyster Habitats

Oysters are a delicacy enjoyed across the world, and their production is ever increasing in the United States. Off the Atlantic coast, farmers responsible for the salty delight employ a cage-farming strategy where oysters are grown in large, “off-bottom vertical cages” under the surface. Read more »

GoPro cameras let scientists know how fish act near oyster cages

As oyster farming has evolved to using stacked cages to grow more of the shellfish on the same area of seabed, researchers are wondering how fish are responding to the artificial structures. Read more »

The Economist: A nasty-tasting shellfish could be just the job for cleaning rivers

The ribbed mussel is edible, but it tastes terrible and so has no commercial value. This means growing the mussels in tainted waters is unlikely to tempt anyone into harvesting them. Read more »

Newsweek: This Tiny Animal Could Be One Solution to Cleaning up City Rivers

Mussels suspended from rafts might be the next superheroes to clean up urban rivers and estuaries-silently absorbing a common, but less obvious, contaminant: nitrogen. Read more »

Finding Impacts of Changing Ocean Chemistry on Fish and Shellfish

Increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels and land use changes means more CO2 is being absorbed by seawater, where it undergoes chemical reactions, reducing the pH level and making the ocean more acidic. Read more »

Man Overboard Rescue Device Developed by Milford Lab Staff

Robert Alix, captain of the Lab's 49-foot research vessel Victor Loosanoff, and Werner Schreiner, a former deck hand on the boat, developed the Man Overboard Recovery device, or MOB, and a US patent is pending. Read more »

Milford's Green Rooms: Growing Microalgae for Shellfish Aquaculture

The lab grow lots of microalgae for specific research needs, and maintains a unique collection of microalgal strains developed decades ago that are used by the commercial aquaculture industry worldwide. Read more »

Milford Laboratory/Envera LLC Cooperative Probiotic Research Highlighted in YouTube Video

A video describing accomplishments of the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between the NOAA Fisheries Milford Laboratory and Envera LLC, has been released on the new NOAA Technology Partnership Office YouTube channel. Diane Kapareiko speaks on the benefits of the CRADA in moving Milford Probiotic Strain OY15 toward commercialization for use in larviculture of the Eastern Oyster, as well as finding another potential probiotic strain for oysters among a collection of Bacillus strains already sold by Envera as probiotic strains for shrimp aquaculture. This video was taken and produced by Derek Parks of the NOAA Technology Partnership Office (TPO).

Jose Pereira’s work with area students highlighted

Pereira, a fisheries biologist at the NEFSC’s Milford Laboratory for 35 years, is part of Project Periphyton, an education program that links research on local watersheds with Long Island Sound and climate change. Read more »

Connecticut Lab Ups Its Shell Game

Research conducted on shellfish aquaculture is highlighted in the Wall Street Journal. Read more »

Milford Lab highlighted in regional magazine

An article highlighting the Milford Laboratory was published in the summer edition of Milford Living. Click here and turn to page 16 to read the article.

Milford Lab's Gary Wikfors named one of the world's top 20 oyster researchers

A recent manuscript in Aquaculture International studied oyster-focused publications from 1991-2014. According to this study, Gary Wikfors was named the 12th most productive author in the world when it comes to oysters! Link to the manuscript »

Senator Chris Murphy Visits the Milford Lab, June 30th 2015

On June 30th, Senator Chris Murphy visited the Milford lab as part of his tour of Long Island Sound communities and businesses.

Gary Wikfors talks bivalves on New York Public Radio (WNYC)'s Leonard Lopate Show

The topic was an "Everything guide to farming and eating mussels, clams and more."  Other guests were Bren Smith from Thimble Island Oyster Company and Sam Ingber, chef at the Grand Central Oyster Bar! Listen to the podcast »

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