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“One of the most innovative and creative scientists of his generation in marine ecology”

ICES honours Kenneth Frank with the 2020 Prix d'Excellence.
Published: 8 September 2020

​​​​​​​​Every three years, with the presentation of the Prix d'Excellence, ICES honours a scientist that is recognized as having achieved the highest level in marine sciences. This award is broader than our organization and recipients have contributed to the advancement of marine science within ICES region but also on a global level.

Prix d'Excellence 2020

This year, the ​Prix d'Excellence 2020 is awarded to Canadian scientist Kenneth Frank. ​Frank has been a research scientist at Bedford Institute of Oceanography since 1983 as well as professor at Dalhousie and Queens universities, and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, (Academy of Science, Division of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences) in June 2013.

Starting his career in fish stock assessment, he later focused more on ecology and ecosystem responses to fisheries and climatic changes, at both the local and global level. He joined William Leggett's lab in 1978 which began a 40 year collaboration. “Dr. Frank joined my research team days after the completion of his PhD and throughout his illustrious career, he has contributed enormously to research into management of and leadership in the area of marine resources worldwide".  A defining characteristic of his work has been its grounding in ecological theory - a focus that has made his findings widely applicable to marine, freshwater and terrestrial systems.

His transformative research on recruitment dynamics in marine fishes was identified by Dr. David Cushing as "classic"- a body of work that changed thinking in the field and provided profound documentation of the influence of oceanic/atmospheric variability on recruitment phenomena. According to one, “It set the scene for the ICES Recruitment Processes Working Group which ran for many years and inspired many new avenues of research."

His peers describes that there is “before and after" Kenneth Frank in marine ecology, stating that marine ecosystems are now perceived differently because of his research. “Regime shifts and trophic cascade used to be regarded as the result of ​​environmental changes and had little to do with overexploitation".

Ground breaking research

In the early 2000s, he led an innovative series of investigations into the dynamics of large marine ecosystems and their vulnerability to perturbation. Focused initially on the Scotian Shelf in the Northwest Atlantic, and concurrent with the historic collapse of cod and other groundfish his research led to the first documentation of a trophic cascade in a large marine ecosystem – and fundamentally accelerated and advanced knowledge of the dynamics of marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems worldwide.

A nominator speaks of how Franks work anticipates and leads to new scientific inquiries “The underlying theme in Dr. Frank's impressive body of literature is a perfect blend between theory and empiricism, so that his research is relevant to both policy and ecology. His articles are cast around key theoretical ecology questions…while addressing practical policy-related issues." Annother nominator contends that “his influence on motivating a broader shift towards ecosystem-based fisheries management practices cannot be overestimated."

Nurturing the next generation

Frank's commitment and inspiration extends into his supervision, leadership, and mentorship of ne​w generations of scientists. One nominator comments that “to gain a measure of a scientist one should at their list of graduate students and post-doctoral fellow, and where they are now. Ken's list looks like a who's who of key ICES scientists – he has nurtured and inspired so many of the next generation of researchers, and that is so important."

Frank has been involved with ICES since 1984, participating in steering groups, expert groups, workshops, and symposia, either as chair, member, or invited expert. He participated in the early development of guidelines for producing ICES ecosystem overviews, and is today a member of ICES/PICES Working Group on Impacts of Warming on Growth Rates and Fisheries Yields.

While Frank receives frequent invitations to present his findings and ideas at leading universities, research institutes, and conferences worldwide, unfortunately, we cannot invite him to our Annual Science Conference until 2021 to present him with his award. We look forward to this occasion next year.  “Without question receiving this award is a great honour", he states, “The award is really very special to me because the ICES community was instrumental early in my career which led to many scientific collaborations and long-term friendships – like being part of a great circle for which I will be forever grateful. Thank you ICES!"  


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​Kenneth Frank, recipient of ICES Prix d'Excellence 2020.

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“One of the most innovative and creative scientists of his generation in marine ecology”

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