Thursday, 21 November 2013

Commending an industry legend on World Fisheries Day

Cletus Oengpepa - in his element
(photo: Frederique Olivier)
World Fisheries Day, November 21, is celebrated throughout the world by fishing communities. It is fitting that this year, on his retirement, we commend the contributions to fisheries research from Mr Cletus Oengpepa.

Cletus, WorldFish research station manager at Gizo in the Western Province of Solomon Islands, has been a valuable partner with ACIAR more than two decades. He has been an inspiration in his efforts to ensure sustainable fisheries and resource management in the Pacific Island region.

"Cletus Oengpepa is a mentor, a leader, a colleague and friend," said Delvene Boso, Country Manager for WorldFish in the Solomon Islands. Her words were echoing how Cletus was described by colleagues in a farewell luncheon held to mark his final week with WorldFish.

A teacher by profession, his interest in science led him to WorldFish where his initial work started in biological research focusing on aquaculture of giant clams. Cletus has been the longest-serving WorldFish staff member in the Solomons. Throughout his 22 years, he has worked through many hardships.

During the ethnic tensions in the late 90s, the research station near Honiara was attacked by militants and eventually destroyed. Cletus was instrumental in leading the evacuation of staff during the crisis. At extreme personal risk he saved much of the equipment as well as the giant clam broodstock.

He was instrumental in re-establishing a research station in Gizo, further away from where the tensions were centred.

"This remarkable man was not simply coordinating the rebuilding of a research station," said Dr Chris Barlow, ACIAR's Fisheries Research Program Manager.
Worldfish research station, and the jetty that Cletus built
"Cletus literally built the jetty and many of the research station buildings. He personally installed the solar panels, did all the cabling and wiring, as well as continuing to manage the operations and staff of the research station," Dr Barlow said.

At his luncheon, Cletus challenged his colleagues by emphasising that the advancement of the Solomon Islands was in their hands. International engagement brings opportunities, but in the end, it is up to Solomon Islanders to direct those opportunities to the development of their own country.

Cletus and his certificate of appreciation
"This is the kind of comment that exemplifies Cletus's attitude; always considering the betterment of his country before his personal interests," Dr Barlow said.

Cletus is thankful for the opportunity an ACIAR research scholarship provided him, and took on a personal obligation to pave the way for future researchers.

"When I got that scholarship, I was so determined to succeed. Not just for myself, but for others who may follow me. If I failed, that would be a block; an impediment for others to receive similar scholarships," said Cletus at his retirement function.

Cletus was one of the first Pacific Island scholars to obtain ACIAR funding. This enabled him to undertake a Masters in Aquaculture by Distance Learning through the Deakin University Warnambool Campus, under Prof. Sena De Silva.

Cletus's achievements have not been limited to managing the research facilities. He also co-authored scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals and helped design research proposals. 

"He always had words of advice and encouragement for young graduate staff. He was continually coaxing them towards further studies. He said they should broaden their horizons and bring back their skills and knowledge to help benefit the region," Ms Boso said.

The fisheries development research community is working to achieve environmentally sustainable increases in supply, to meet the growing demand. Fish and fisheries are enormously important as food and a source of livelihood for many millions of people in our neighbouring countries. Without the dedication from individuals like Cletus, the advances that have been made would not be possible.

We thank Cletus for his remarkable achievements, the inspiration he has provided to researchers and other members of his community, and wish him the best in his well-deserved retirement.

By Alexandra Bagnara, ACIAR Communications

Further information: 


  1. Thank you Cletus, it was an honour to work with you and I wish you well in all your future endeavours, looking forward to seeing in action in your next chapter! All the best, Hugh

  2. Dear Cletus It has been a great honor to work with you and know you through WorldFish and ACIAR. Congratulations on a fantastic career achievement to date and wishing you a truly wonderful pathway into your next stages. Many of us can attest that the next stages are fantastic also! Meryl Williams

  3. Many thanks Cletus, great honor working with you in WorldFish, you've been a true mentor. All the best with your future dreams.


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