Mar 31, 2021

Remembering Richard Fassler

Richard Fassler, a former member of the State Aquaculture Development Program (ADP) team and the Hawaii Aquaculture and Aquaponics Association, passed away on March 15, 2021 at his home in Manoa; his wife Karen and daughter Kim at his side. I want to let Richard’s many friends in the Hawaii aquaculture community know of his passing and something about him and what he did for the aquaculture industry and Hawaii while working for ADP.

Richard was born on October 7, 1941 in Illinois and attended Kenyon College, majoring in economics. He joined the Peace Corps in 1965, four years after its inception, and he would say it changed his life. The experience brought out lifelong passions for traveling, learning about different cultures and languages, and education. He served in Thailand, the Philippines, and American Samoa teaching English, but perhaps most significant was his pre-deployment training in Hilo which introduced him to Hawaii. He returned to Hawaii after completing an M.A. in International Education at Columbia. What followed was meeting Karen and deciding multi-culture Hawaii would be home.

In the mid-seventies, aquaculture was beginning to attract interest not only at the national level, but at the Hawaii Legislature. I think this can be largely attributed to three things: a visionary governor, George Ariyoshi, willing to try new things; Tap Pryor’s expansion of the Oceanic Institute and Sea Life Park; and Takuji Fujimura’s success in closing the life cycle for the freshwater prawn at the Anuenue Fisheries Research Center. Richard’s aquaculture journey began about this time when he was hired by State Senator T.C. Yim, a no-nonsense visionary himself, to research and write a report on the potential of aquaculture. That was followed by a state-wide aquaculture assessment report I did for the Department of Planning and Economic Development and the combination led to funding of an Aquaculture Planning Project in 1977. Richard joined the project as one of its first staff.

With the publication of the State aquaculture plan in 1979, the first in the nation, the Legislature funded the Aquaculture Development Program to implement it. Richard became its Information Specialist and I its Manager. In this position he had broad responsibilities for interacting with potential investors, all types of farmers, and the interested public, explaining the industry and its challenges. His gregarious personality, background, and the skills he perfected in the Peace Corps served him well in the 20 years he spent with ADP, eventually becoming its Economic Development Specialist. To highlight a few areas:

-  Richard was an expert photographer, with an eye particularly for people shots. With camera never far from his side, he built up the Program’s Photo Library documenting industry growth and diversity, special events and conferences, so we had a visual record to use in presentations and promotional materials.
-  He was a great speaker and made many presentations to local, national and international audiences. He thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to describe the Hawaii industry in detail. This task included leading small group field trips and tours for dignitaries and the interested public. Having mastered six languages, he would surprise some of our international visitors by conversing in their language.
-  As a former English teacher, he was a key team member, writing and editing many of our promotional and extension publications. For a period of time, we had a newsletter, which Richard wrote.
-  ADP was often asked to put on information displays for various kinds of events and conferences. Richard was a big part of those efforts, often designing the display. For example, he was responsible for the displays at the Annual Farm Fair at McKinley High School, attended by thousands of folks. These displays grew into large, themed, “over the top” exhibits with live fish, food samples and promotional giveaways. Personally, I enjoyed staffing the exhibits when the Governor and important Legislators would come by and be very impressed.
-  In terms of international conferences, Richard and the ADP staff were involved in bringing and supporting many over the years (science tourism); for example, the World Aquaculture Society was here three times. However, I am sure his most memorable conference was the International Pearl Farming Conference, for which he was the ADP lead. This was the first large international pearl conference outside of Japan and had attendees from 39 countries, including Japan, Australia, Tahiti, various Pacific Islands and the New York jewelry establishment.

In 1999 Richard left ADP to accept a position as Economic Development Specialist for the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and continue in public service. This allowed him to apply his skills and experience to the larger challenges of expanding and diversifying the Hawaii economy in other areas. He continued in this position until his retirement.

So, how is the Hawaii aquaculture industry he helped foster doing today? Well, the latest national census makes the Hawaii’s industry the 6th largest by dollar value in the United States. To me it is clear: the work of ADP and Richard laid a foundation for the steady growth of the diverse industry we see today. Aquaculture on all the islands has a long-term future in Hawaii and Richard’s efforts in the early years have contributed immeasurably to that future.

I hope this brief recounting of history allows past and current community members, many of whom worked with Richard, to remember him fondly and further value his work and friendship.

John Corbin, Manager of the Hawaii Aquaculture Development Program, 1979 – 2006.