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Scientists Set Sail To Study Bluefin Tuna Spawning Grounds In The Oil-Tainted Gulf

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OCEAN SPRINGS, Mississippi -- Scientists from The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) are set to begin a 12-day research expedition Saturday to collect samples of bluefin tuna larvae, one of the ocean's most threatened fish.

Funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), GCRL researchers Dr. Bruce Comyns, Dr. Eric Hoffmayer, Jim Franks and Dick Waller are in a race to harvest samples of larvae, which is the most vulnerable life-stage of bluefin tuna. Bluefin tuna spawn in only two places in the western hemisphere — the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. This places them in a precarious situation due to the position and magnitude of the oil-affected waters following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

"We're concerned about the potential effects of the oil spill on this highly vulnerable species," said Jim Franks, fisheries biologist at GCRL's Center for Fisheries Research and Development. Franks is an expert in offshore and inshore marine species and their habitats

The team of researchers will spend their voyage to the loop current aboard the R/V Tommy Munro which is operated by the University of Southern Mississippi. GCRL's bluefin tuna team, in partnership with NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and Roffer's Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service (ROFFS), has been involved in the study of bluefin tuna larvae for the past decade. This trip is critical to further the understanding of the biology and habitat of bluefin larvae, as well as assist NMFS with its assessments of the bluefin stock in the Gulf.

"There is still much to learn regarding all aspects of bluefin biology, behavioral patterns such as seasonal migrations, and the status of the stocks while in the Gulf of Mexico spawning grounds," explained Franks.

In recent years, bluefin tuna stocks have been over-fished to the point of severe depletion. It is one of the world's most highly sought and economically valuable fish.

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