Research at the Center for Fisheries
Research & Development

Research at the Center for Fisheries GCRL's Center for Fisheries Research and Development (CFRD) deals with the ecology and management of species important to the commercial and recreational fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico. CFRD currently conducts 28 research projects, including both independent projects and cooperative projects with state and federal agencies.

Cooperative projects with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources provide fishery-independent biological data to support state fisheries management efforts.Cooperative projects with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources provide fishery-independent biological data to support state fisheries management efforts. Three long-term sampling programs collect field data at regular intervals to provide insights into resource populations and status.

Similar long-term field sampling is conducted in cooperation with other Gulf states and NOAA Fisheries though the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP). Plankton and groundfish sampling is conducted from May - September and June through October, respectively. Bottom longline surveys are conducted monthly from March through October.

Read Hendon

CFRD Director

Read prepares to release a tagged cobia.
Read prepares to release a tagged cobia.

Read Hendon is the Director of the Center for Fisheries Research and Development (CFRD), where his research focuses primarily on coastal and marine finfishes with an emphasis on fisheries ecology and management. Read received his B.S. and M.S. in Biological Sciences and Ph.D. in Coastal Sciences from the University of Southern Mississippi. He joined CFRD in 1998 and became Assistant Director in 2008 and Director in 2013. He is a Certified Fisheries Professional (FP-C) through the American Fisheries Society.

Read's current research encompasses assessing population dynamics of exploited fish stocks, better delineating and defining essential fish habitat, and evaluating ecosystem interactions of biota within the Mississippi Sound and adjacent Gulf waters. Current synergistic activities include memberships on the Mississippi Stock Assessment Panel, the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP) Gulf of Mexico Sub-Committee, the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council’s Standing Scientific & Statistical Committee and its Red Drum Advisory Panel, and the Marine Fisheries Initiative (MARFIN) Panel (Gulf of Mexico Recreational Representative). Read also participates in a variety of cooperative inter-agency activities, most recently with the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review SEDAR 28 data workshop addressing Spanish mackerel and cobia.

Read’s research is conducted in conjunction with fisheries technicians Sarah Ashworth, Chris Butler, Bill Dempster, Gary Gray, Jeremy Higgs, Art Karels, Jason Tilley, and Dick Waller.

Current Projects

Jim Franks

Senior Research Scientist

Jim Franks collecting samples of a yellowfin tuna's internal organs at tournament weigh-in. Jim is a familiar face to anglers all along the Gulf coast; he frequently visits fishing tournaments and rodeos to collect samples and make observations of interesting catches.
Jim Franks collecting samples of a yellowfin tuna's internal organs at tournament weigh-in. Jim is a familiar face to anglers all along the Gulf coast; he frequently visits fishing tournaments and rodeos to collect samples and make observations of interesting catches.

Jim Franks' work focuses on the biology and ecology of coastal reef associated fishes and oceanic large pelagic fishes. Recent and current research interests are fish communities that associate with pelagic Sargassum habitat and oceanic frontal zones, age and feeding habits of larval bluefin tuna, distribution and critical habitats of young tarpon, and trophic ecology of yellowfin tuna.

Examples of research conducted with CFRD Co-PIs include:

These projects are providing information that informs the fisheries resource management process in Mississippi and Gulf-wide, and serves to support sustainable fish populations and habitats in the region.

Jim’s research is a close collaborative effort with fisheries technicians Dyan Gibson, Sarah Ashworth, Jeremy Higgs, Gary Gray, John Anderson, Jason Tilley, William Dempster, Paul Grammar and Patrick Graham; Department of Coastal Sciences faculty and researchers Dr. Eric Saillant. Dr. Frank Hernandez, Dr. Jay Grimes, Dr. Stephen Curran and Nancy Brown-Peterson; and GCRL graphic artist Dianna Reid.

Jim is a member of graduate committees for M.S. students Jeremy Higgs and Stephanie Taylor and Ph.D. student Luca Antonio. He serves on the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council’s Coastal Migratory Pelagics Advisory Panel and the Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission’s Scientific Advisory Committee. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Wildlife Federation and the Executive Committee of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute.

Harriet Perry

Senior Research Scientist and Assistant Professor Emerita

Harriet Perry aboard a GCRL boat recovering derelict crab traps in Biloxi Bay.
Harriet Perry aboard a GCRL boat recovering derelict crab traps in Biloxi Bay.

Harriet came to GCRL as student in 1968 and never left. She served as CFRD's Director from 2000 - 2013 and now continues her involvement as an researcher. Most of her work has addressed crabs - geryonid crabs from the deep water, western gulf coast stone crabs, and especially blue crabs. (Harriet maintains that the wise biologist always studies delicious creatures.) Her work has encompassed both the development of basic life history information on poorly understood species as well as fishery development projects to support the seafood industry.

Harriet’s research involves the efforts of technicians Lillian Collins, Kirk Halstead, Anthony Ryan, and Tom VanDevender and graduate student Stephanie Taylor.

Blue Crabs

Harriet is currently working with the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission on the biological section of the Regional Management Plan for Blue Crabs in the Gulf of Mexico. The plan is being updated for the first time since its initial publication in 2001, when Harriet served as a contributor and co-editor. Harriet recently served as a biological contributor to the first peer reviewed and accepted regional stock assessment for blue crabs, GDAR01, Stock Assessment Report, Gulf of Mexico Blue Crab, published in 2013.

To gather data on catch and effort in the blue crab fishery and to get information on the biological characteristics of crabs entering the commercial fishery, Harriet initiated a three-year blue crab catch per unit of effort (CPUE) study in the early 1970s. She has continued the program during subsequent years as funding was available; the program has collected data continuously for the last several years. Researchers accompany a commercial crabber from each of the three coastal counties on semi-monthly fishing trips. The information has provided invaluable long-term fishery-dependent data on blue crab abundance, parasites and disease, and size and sex of crabs in the fishery. Mississippi is currently the only state with detailed biological data on crabs entering the commercial catch.

It is evident that significant changes have occurred in the blue crab fishery in Mississippi and across the Gulf of Mexico.  The recently published GDAR 01 stock assessment document expressed specific concern over the Gulf-wide trend in decreasing blue crab biomass. More severe decreases have been observed in recent years and the Deepwater Horizon accident has caused additional worries. Sub-lethal, chronic effects of the spill are unknown and there is concern that the reproductive capacity of female blue crabs may be comprised as they brood their eggs in areas known to have been impacted by the spill. Stock monitoring work is continuing. Harriet is seeking funding to continue developing protocols for larval and pond culture of crabs should stock enhancement using aquacultured crabs be needed as a response to any diminished recruitment that might occur. 

Cultured crabs can also be used in field studies investigating natural mortality, habitat suitability, and other issues related to juvenile blue crab abundances to provide managers data to better understand causes of fluctuations in populations.

Aquaculture and Fishery Development

GCRL's blue crab aquaculture program is pursuing the development of reliable larval culture and grow-out protocols for blue crabs for use in fishery development based on pond culture of soft crabs and bait crabs for recreational fishing. Harriet is working to secure funding to investigate how pond culture operations can be made more economically feasible by reducing salt requirements, recognizing the high salinity needs of larval crabs and taking advantage of the tolerance of older crabs for extremely low salinity.

Crabs and Oil

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Harriet and Dick Waller remove red crabs (Chaceon quinquedens) from deepwater traps deployed in the Gulf of Mexico during a research cruise aboard the R/V Tommy Munro.

Two deepwater research surveys of red crab populations, conducted by Harriet and other GCRL researchers aboard the R/V Tommy Munro during the 1980s and 1990s, provided valuable baseline information that can be used in the evaluation of the effects of the Deepwater Horizon accident. Another cruise with a consortium of researchers was conducted immediately following the spill and provided additional information on red crab populations in the northern Gulf. Harriet was chief scientist on a broad-scale, red crab survey aboard the NOAA vessel R/V Pisces in 2011 which collected more than 4000 samples for analysis. Plans are being made for a follow-up NOAA cruise in August 2014.  Data on red crabs are part of the NOAA NRDA process and will be used to evaluate damage to red crab resources.

Samples of juvenile blue crabs collected after the Deepwater Horizon accident showed possible oil contamination. While the sample size was too small for conventional analysis techniques, the samples have been preserved and alternative methods are being pursued. Both of these research efforts are part of the NRDA process.

Jill Hendon

Research Scientist

Jill Hendon holds a #-pound bull shark while technicians Sarah Ashworth measures the shark and technician Gary Gray tends the water line flowing water over the shark's gills. The shark was caught on a longline in the Mississippi Sound near Horn Island. It was tagged and released in excellent condition.
Jill Hendon holds a six-foot, 100-pound male bull shark while technicians Sarah Ashworth measures the shark and technician Gary Gray tends the water line flowing water over the shark's gills. The shark was caught on a longline in the Mississippi Sound near Horn Island. It was tagged and released in excellent condition.

Jill Hendon’s work focuses on monitoring shark populations in the Mississippi Sound and the northern Gulf of Mexico, as well as determining movement and seasonality patterns for specific shark species.  Her projects involve monthly shark sampling by gill net and long line.  Information such as species, sex, length, and weight is recorded for all encountered sharks.  Sharks in good condition are tagged with an external streamer or dorsal fin tag that has a unique identifier number. If this shark is recaptured, movement and growth data can be discerned for the individual. The work is described further in an article on reporting a tagged fish catch. 800 to 1000 sharks are tagged and released in a typical year. 

Additional studies have branched off from the monitoring work.  Reproduction, age and growth, and feeding data are compiled from collected sharks.  Complete reproductive and age/growth assessments are being completed for blacknose and finetooth sharks.  Jill works closely with Dr. Andy Evans, whose work focuses on the endocrinology of elasmobranchs (sharks, rays, and skates).

Hendon’s primary technician is Sarah Ashworth.  Other project technicians are Jeremy Higgs, Gary Gray, William Dempster, Chris Butler, Arthur Karels, and Graduate Assistant Danielle Bailey. Jill serves on the graduate committee of Jeremy Higgs.

Acoustic Tracking of Fish Movements

Technician Sarah Ashworth checks an acoustic receiver prior to deployment near the Mississippi barrier islands.
Technician Sarah Ashworth checks an acoustic receiver prior to deployment near the Mississippi barrier islands.

Hendon and other GCRL researchers also use more advanced acoustic tracking technologies for monitoring movements of several fish species.  She and co-PI Jim Franks have an acoustic array deployed in the Mississippi Sound which documents the presence of acoustically tagged fish.  Jill and Jim have been tagging reef fish and shark species in hopes of determining fish habitat and movement patterns in the region. 

Whale Sharks

Hendon and Franks have also used satellite tags to assess the movements of larger, more highly mobile species, including the whale shark.  Hendon and Franks maintain an online database for reporting whale shark sightings in the northern Gulf of Mexico using reports collected from the boating and fishing communities and the offshore oil and gas industry. The ongoing tagging research and the sightings database is yielding a better idea of how these sharks are utilizing the Gulf waters. 

Summer Field Program

Hendon teaches an undergraduate/graduate level Shark Biology course offered in GCRL’s Summer Field Program.  The course is an intense four-week field-based program that focuses on elasmobranch classification, identification, biology, and ecology. 


John Anderson

Research Scientist

John hauling a seine in Back Bay during a periodic sampling session.
John hauling a seine in Back Bay during a periodic sampling session.

John Anderson is a Research Scientist with more than 15 years of experience in fields ranging from water quality to coastal geomorphology to fisheries monitoring projects using a variety of gears. Most notably, he is the project lead for Mississippi’s Inter-jurisdictional Sampling Program, a fisheries assessment and monitoring project started in 1974. He started his M.S. work part-time at the GCRL in 2004, completing his advanced degree in coastal science in 2009.

John serves as a scientist for Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP) offshore trawl surveys and currently is a member of the SEAMAP Gulf Sub-Committee Data Coordinating Work Group. He is also a member of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute and the American Fisheries Society, Mississippi Chapter. At GCRL, John also serves as the boat operations manager for the Center.

John's current projects include:

Greg Crochet

Research Associate

Greg collecting samples in a juvenile crab grow-out pond.
Greg collecting samples in a juvenile crab grow-out pond.

Greg Crochet works primarily on projects related to blue crab aquaculture. His work addresses research projects on crab pond culture, ion concentrations in crab culture water, crab stocking densities, and aquaculture of bait crabs and softshell crabs. One specific goal is to find ways to reduce the cost of crab aquaculture operations through the use of alternative nutrients and salts.

Greg earned his B.S Degree from the University of Southwestern Louisiana. He worked for Mississippi State University as a Aquaculture Research Assistant from 1992-1994 and then as an aquaculture instructor at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before joining GCRL in 2008.


Don Johnson

Senior Research Scientist

Don Johnson is a physical oceanographer who joined GCRL in 2003, coming from the Naval Research Laboratory at the Stennis Space Center. His work deals with currents and the current-induced movement of marine life forms, using simulation models and measured data from moored buoys and satellites. Most recently, Don has collaborated with Harriet Perry and NOAA Fisheries scientist Joanne Shultz in a study of red snapper populations and distribution of snapper larvae.

Larval bluefin tuna collected aboard the R/V Tommy Munro in the Gulf of Mexico. Adult bluefins may reach a weight of 1000 pounds.
Larval bluefin tuna collected aboard the R/V Tommy Munro in the Gulf of Mexico. Adult bluefins may reach a weight of 1000 pounds.

Don has been investigating whether larval transport by systematic ocean current patterns contribute larvae from the highly fecund western population to the smaller, less fecund population east of DeSoto Canyon. Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) is a highly important commercial and recreational fish of the Gulf of Mexico, but its Gulf-wide management is contentious.  Due to overfishing, the Gulf population has been seriously depleted, with a 90% decrease between the 1970s and the 1990s.  Presently, red snapper populations are coming back, but not at the same rate across the entire northern Gulf.  East of the DeSoto Canyon (essentially the Florida/Alabama border), populations are smaller and composed of individuals that are younger, smaller and, hence, less fecund females.  To the west, populations and individual fish are larger with more productive females.

Red snapper spawn in deep water and lead sedentary lives with low adult movement. But current patterns in the western region differ substantially from those in the east and have a strong effect on larval distribution. In the west, offshore eddies from the Loop Current interact with the continental shelf to distribute snapper larvae broadly, while the eastern region is relatively isolated from deepwater currents. In studies using both observed and modeled ocean currents, Don has determined that the western population can naturally contribute sufficient larvae to the eastern population for genetic homogenization, but not sufficient numbers for rapid repopulation. 

This suggests that management might be considered which takes into account the dynamics of the two populations separately.  It was also found that the eastern population might be amenable to stock enhancement by artificial means since the loss of larvae from this region due to currents is relatively small.

This study has been sponsored by the NOAA/NMFS Marine Fisheries Initiative (MARFIN)

Don has collaborated with Jim Franks and others in investigating the movement of larval offshore fishes such as bluefin tuna, which spawn along the boundaries of current eddies. The age, in days, of larval specimens is determined by examination of the otolith rings and the data on currents is used to "back track" to the spawning location. Don has also examined the distribution and movement of sargassum in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, attempting to relate sargassum growth and movement to climatic conditions and ocean currents.

Larry Nicholson

Larry Nicholson opens the valve on the transport tank to release hatchery raised striped bass into the Pascagoula River at the Indian Point Marina. In 2013, 173,000 striped bass were released in coastal waters from the Pearl River to the Pascagoula River. More than 17,000 were tagged and seventeen larger fish were fitted with acoustic tracking devices.
Larry Nicholson opens the valve on the transport tank to release hatchery raised striped bass into the Pascagoula River at the Indian Point Marina. In 2013, 173,000 striped bass were released in coastal waters from the Pearl River to the Pascagoula River. More than 17,000 were tagged and seventeen larger fish were fitted with acoustic tracking devices.

Larry Nicholson has managed GCRL's striped bass rearing and stocking program since 1967. The first fish were released in the summer 1969.  The restoration program continued uninterrupted except for an interruption caused by Hurricane Katrina.  Prior to Katrina more than twelve million striped bass fingerlings had been released in the tributaries of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Since then, the GCRL Striped Bass Restoration Program has worked cooperatively with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources’ Lyman Fish Hatchery to produce an additional 1.2 million fingerling striped bass.

Reports from recreational anglers of both tagged and untagged striped bass catches indicate that the fish are surviving and growing very well.  This point is well illustrated by the fact that in 1991 a striped bass released by GCRL’s striped bass restoration project was subsequently caught and its weight certified.  The fish weighed more than 38 pounds, which remains the state record.

Larry’s research has been supported over the years by technician Carl Manning.

Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Process

CFRD scientists are serving as trustee collaborators in the NRDA process addressing the effects of the Deepwater Horizon accident. The historical data obtained in GCRL's long-term monitoring programs is a key resource in this effort.

CFRD Research Sponsors

State/Federal Research Sponsors

Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Mississippi Department of Marine Resources    Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Coastal Impact Assistance Program Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Coastal Impact Assistance Program
Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality   Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Protection Agency
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service   University of New Orleans / Bureau of Ocean Energy Management University of New Orleans / Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
USFWS Sport Fish Restoration Program USFWS Sport Fish Restoration Program   Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries / USFWS-SFR Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries / USFWS-SFR

Private Research Sponsors

Roffers Ocean Fishing Forecast Service Roffers Ocean Fishing Forecast Service   Guy Harvey Guy Harvey
Mississippi Gulf Coast Fishing Trounaments, Inc. Mississippi Gulf Coast Fishing Trounaments, Inc.   Release Marine, Inc. Release Marine, Inc.
Mobile Big Game Fishing Club Mobile Big Game Fishing Club   Historic Ocean Springs Flyfishing Club (HOSSFLY) Historic Ocean Springs Flyfishing Club (HOSSFLY)

GCRL Tarpon Research Team thanks Dr. Robert Meaher of Fairhope, Alabama for his contribution to support research.

Past CFRD Projects