June 1, 2016; Biloxi, Mississippi:
By Capt. Dave Lear
When the tournament fleet returns to the weigh scales next Friday and Saturday, contestants and spectators alike probably won’t notice the little pop-up tent located behind some sponsor booths. Yet next to the seawall, a team of fisheries biologists will be busy conducting important research, led by a man who has been there since the beginning. Tall, lanky, and likely smeared with blood and fish slime, senior research scientist Jim Franks will once again be in his element, instructing students and gathering vital samples from pelagic game fish. Later this month, a research vessel bearing his name will be officially commissioned. The recently launched R/V Jim Franks, a 60-foot metal catamaran, is the latest addition to the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory’s fleet. The vessel is named after the longtime and still practicing fisheries biologist to immortalize his dedicated career.
“We are very excited to be receiving the R/V Jim Franks as the newest addition to our research fleet,” said Dr. Gordon Cannon, vice president for research at Southern Miss. “She was especially designed by our scientists to perform their current and future work. We greatly appreciate the resources provided by the Mississippi legislature that allow us to expand our ocean studies in the Gulf of Mexico.”
“It’s a tremendous honor to have my name on that vessel,” Franks says. “It’s a very good boat that will serve our university and research facility for many years to come. It really is a wonderful tribute, about as good as it gets. This is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
Franks has been a valuable member of the Classic tournament committee since the inaugural event in 1997. He has more than 35 years of experience as a fisheries biologist and 50 publications credited to his name. During his career, Franks has been a passionate advocate for the conservation of the marine environment. He used his research to change the global perception of pelagic sargassum and fight the proposal to burn the free-floating seaweed after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Sargassum was long considered nothing more than waste until Franks’ research proved it is actually critical to marine life and home to more than 150 species of pelagic fish. For his groundbreaking work with sargassum, the American Fisheries Society presented Franks and the GCRL with the Outstanding National Project of the Year recognition in 2003.
In addition to his work with the laboratory and the MGCBC, Franks serves on the Mississippi Wildlife Federation’s Board of Directors, the Marine Fisheries Initiative panel, Highly Migratory Species panel and is the chairman of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute.
With berths for eight, the R/V Jim Franks is equipped for both day cruises and overnight trips for projects such as water testing, trawling, long-lining, trips to the barrier islands, surveying and fishing. Researchers will also have access to both an interior and exterior wet laboratory and dry laboratory on board.
“The Large Pelagics Team will be on the dock again next week during the Classic sampling fish brought to the weigh scales,” Franks explains. “This will help us and the management agencies have a better understanding of these big-game sport fish. This year we will be focusing our efforts on blue marlin and dolphin. We’ll be collecting otoliths or ear bones to determine aging as well as samples of the reproductive systems. Only a few blue marlin will be brought in, of course, so this gives us an excellent opportunity to collect these vital samples. We’ll be sampling a weight range of dolphin too, to see if we can learn more about these fish.”
So if you get the chance during the tournament, make it a point to congratulate Jim Franks on this special honor. Shake his hand in recognition of a distinguished career. Just make sure he takes his rubber gloves off first.