Milford Lab among federal buildings affected by shutdown

The Milford Lab on Rogers Avenue has been closed since the partial federal government shutdown started Dec. 22, but a few employees have been caring for the clams, oysters and other sea creatures that live inside the facility.

The Milford Lab is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Julie Kay Roberts, director of communications for NOAA, said there is staff that is taking care of the sea creatures and other daily needs at the Milford facility. They are not getting paid but will be paid once the furlough is over.

“The Milford Laboratory has employees that are considered ‘intermittently excepted employees’,” Roberts said. “These employees have been identified to periodically report to their duty station to fulfill a minimal level of duties which includes care of sea creatures located at the facility.”

The Rogers Avenue lab, officially known as the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center, opened in 1931 and conducts research into fish and shellfish habitat, for commercial use and restoration. There are 19 full-time government employees at the lab. They are not allowed to access their government email during the shutdown so could not be reached for comment.

In a 2015 Connecticut Post article, one of the researchers talked about growing phytoplankton and zooplankton on an upper floor, and the need to take the plankton to the basement in hand carts to feed to the clams and oysters.

Roberts said current projects at the lab 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 the near term,” the lab’s utilities have been paid and the necessary temperature control is being maintained to protect the experiments and sea creatures, Roberts added.

The Milford Laboratory is described on its website as “a world leader in aquaculture science.”

According to the NOAA website, “Over the lab’s history, NOAA scientists, working closely with industry and academia, have made fundamental contributions to the understanding of shellfish biology and reproduction.”

When U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy visited the Milford Lab two years ago to discuss federal funding for research there, he talked about the valuable work done at the Milford facility.

“As changes in the environment batter Long Island Sound and deplete our stocks of shellfish, we need to invest in groundbreaking research more than ever before,’’ Murphy said in 2016. “It isn’t just the right thing to do environmentally, it’s also the right thing to do for our economy.”

He added, “The men and women at the Milford Lab are at the forefront of creating jobs, growing our knowledge base about ocean health and climate change, and developing sustained populations of shellfish — which grows our economy and creates jobs.”

Furloughed employees are not paid, unless Congress passes legislation to cover them with back pay after the lapse.

“Excepted employees are working without receiving a paycheck, but will be paid once the lapse ends and funding is available,” Roberts said.

She said there are no projects at risk at the lab due to the shutdown, but noted that staff will miss at least one important conference — The Northeast Aquaculture Conference and Exposition Jan. 9 to 11 in Boston.