The DMR’s loss has become the University of Southern Mississippi’s gain.
Kelly Lucas, the state Department of Marine Resources’ chief scientific officer since 2013, is leaving to become director of the Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center at USM’s Gulf Coast Research Lab.
DMR spokeswoman Melissa Scallan said the state office is advertising for a new chief scientific officer. There is no time frame on filling the position.
For Lucas, it’s an opportunity to return to one of her alma maters. She earned her doctorate in coastal sciences from USM.
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“The School of Ocean Science and Technology is incredibly happy to have Dr. Lucas join us at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory,” the school’s Director Monty Graham said in a press release. “Dr. Lucas brings an incredible background as a proven researcher, scientific leader and a policy expert. The depth and breadth of her work will undoubtedly propel USM forward as an international powerhouse in marine aquaculture.”
The $25 million aquaculture center employs cutting-edge technology, peer-reviewed research and hands-on testing to grow fish in an environmentally responsible and economically feasible manner, according to a USM press release. It works directly with blue crab, red snapper, marine shrimp, spotted sea trout and striped bass.
Lucas said she hopes to utilize the work being done at the aquaculture center to bolster seafood numbers for the future.
“Globally, the demand for seafood is increasing while wild fish harvest is stagnant and is predicted to have reached maximum yield,” she said in a press release. “Aquaculture production is not only necessary to meet the current seafood demand, it offers growth potential, helps address food security and creates jobs.”
While at the DMR, Lucas worked closely with the Lyman Fish Hatchery. She also was able to expand her interests in oyster aquaculture opportunities along the Coast.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, seafood consumption in the United States is 90 percent imports with half being aquaculture product, leading to a seafood trade deficit of more than $11 billion annually.
Lucas said aquaculture can restore, enhance and alleviate pressure on wild stocks, in addition to supporting the global demand for seafood through commercial development.
Lucas officially began work at USM on Tuesday. She will also serve on the Ocean Science and Technology school’s leadership team.