Sir Cyril Lucas

Sir Cyril Edward Lucas, KB, marine biologist

Born: 30 July, 1909, in Hull

Died: 12 January, 2002, in Aberdeen, aged 92

SIR Cyril Lucas, a marine biologist of international distinction, pioneered modern fisheries science on a global scale. Through his 22-year role as director of fisheries research in Scotland, he established a lead in creating worldwide systems for providing scientific advice on fisheries.

As long as a century ago, scientists in Scotland set an example to other nations in collecting statistics of individual trawler catches based on squares of latitude and longitude, a method now adopted worldwide. The international nature of most fish stocks meant that best results would come from marine research if it was co-ordinated across nations, and Lucas put much of his energy into the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.

Blessed with strong managerial ability, the young Dr Lucas was soon in demand as a knowledgeable expert witness at conferences and inquiries involving marine fisheries and conservation. His evident interest in every aspect of marine fishery quickly led him to prominent roles at major gatherings, and he chaired or delivered papers to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Commission for the North West Atlantic as well as the International Oceanographic Commission.

The tiny organisms which form plankton were the subject of his earliest research as a young postgraduate student in Hull, his native city. Working with Professor (later Sir) Alister Hardy at University College, Lucas and his colleagues brought to bear a clarity of thought which recognised plankton as a principal factor in oceanic productivity. It was typical of his personal commitment to the subject that work on plankton continued as a centrepiece of his published work well beyond his retirement in November 1970.

Lucas, working with Hardy and his team, helped devise the continuous plankton recorder, a torpedo-shaped device which could be towed at full speed by any ordinary vessel to reveal plankton distribution.

In 1932, the year after he graduated, Lucas and Hardy arranged for their continuous plankton recorder to be towed routinely on southern North Sea routes by some 60 commercial ships, from ferries to trawlers, as part of a five-year study. The results proved extremely valuable in ascertaining distribution of all kinds of marine life, including fish. It says much for the efficacy of this early design of plankton recorder that it is still in daily use around the world.

In 1948, at the age of 39, Lucas was appointed director of the Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen, an establishment run by the then Scottish Home Department. His responsibilities included providing scientific advice to government on marine fisheries and fish stocks.

Possessed of a quite exceptional memory, he also earned a reputation for absolute reliability with both politicians and civil servants in Edinburgh. He built up the seagoing aspect of the Marine Lab to good effect, all the while pressing for onshore facilities more worthy of the work carried out. This latter finally occurred in 1955, when a new block was opened in Torry, on the southern bank of the river Dee.

To those who professed not to know him, he was able to show the substantial depth of his scientific interest when in 1958 the Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory at Pitlochry came under his command. With his strong sense of direction, he created the opportunity to reorganise and redevelop research programmes at both laboratories, recruiting more - and particularly younger - fishery scientists and oceanographers.

His published work largely concerned marine plankton and fisheries research, appearing in various international scientific journals, including the Bulletins of Marine Ecology, of which he was joint editor. His prolific pen continued to produce articles and papers after retirement. Nor was there much let-up of his extensive programme of travel to serve such organisations as the Natural Environment Research Council.

His work was recognised in honorary degrees from the universities of Hull and Aberdeen, as well as being nominated as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1966. He was made CMG in 1956 and knighted 20 years later.

A lifelong and unapologetic pipesmoker, Sir Cyril enjoyed family life greatly. He loved walking and gardening, and it was a matter of some pride to him that he planned his garden in order to have plants in bloom in it every month of the year. An active member of Aberdeenshire Cricket Club, he allowed his Yorkshire instincts to come to the fore when following the fortunes of the MCC, declaring that he would not rest until England’s team was filled by 11 Yorkshiremen.

His wife, Sallie (ne Rose), predeceased him in 1974, and he is survived by his children, John, Alison and Andrew, and grandchildren Meg, David, Sara and Jo-anne.