(WTNH) – Thousands of people came to Milford this weekend for the Milford Oysterfest. They served up some 30,000 oysters, all grown in the water off Connecticut’s coast. As they enjoy those tasty shellfish, they may not know that, right nearby, scientists are constantly studying those oysters.

Just across the harbor is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service laboratory. The scientists working there try to make the shellfish industry thrive.

“Among our main projects are to improve the hatchery techniques so that it’s more effective and dependable to have shellfish seed to plant,” explained Dr. Gary Wikfors, Aquaculture Sustainability Branch Chief of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

Shellfishing is a $30 million industry in Connecticut, and Connecticut’s senior senator wants to see more funding to study it.

“The scientific development ongoing and supported by the federal government will transform aquaculture in the United States,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D – Connecticut).

If you’re old enough to remember the late 1990s, you remember the news about shellfishing in Connecticut that seemed to be all bad back then. It is a lot better now, and the scientists say that is due to a combination of what they do at NOAA and improvements in the environment in general.

“As a society, we emphasize water quality,” said John Hare, Director of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. “We also value our own production of seafood. And then a lot of science and a lot of work went into improving oyster culture.”

It turns out poisons and pollution are bad for the oysters. However, farming oysters is actually good for the environment, according to the shellfish growers association.

“This is one of the most sustainable crops on the plant in terms of, we don’t use any drugs, chemicals, fertilizers, antibiotics,” said Robert Rheault, Executive Director of the Shellfish Growers Assoc. “These animals clean the water and provide habitat while they are growing.”

So, enjoy those oysters, knowing each one is actually making Long Island Sound better.