Pioneering Cawthron scientist Henry Kaspar hangs up his lab coat

Dr Henry Kaspar at the Glen Aquaculture Park.

Dr Henry Kaspar at the Glen Aquaculture Park.

Henry Kaspar, the pioneering scientist most credited with setting Nelson's Cawthron Institute on its successful aquaculture pathway, has hung up his lab coat.

Kaspar, 66, a Swiss New Zealander, retired last week after 35 years at Cawthron and was honoured by a number of old colleagues and young scientists he had mentored, who spoke at his farewell function and also had their comments filmed for a presentation video.

Cawthron director Charles Eason said Kaspar was one of the few researchers able to claim to have made a real world difference, shown when the world's largest mussel hatchery was opened at the Glen earlier this year. 

That was a tangible result of research led by Kaspar, who had been Cawthron's kaumatua, at key times a captain, and a champion for aquaculture research. 

Former director Graeme Robertson, who worked alongside him for 17 years from 1988, said Kaspar had played a pivotal role in revitalising the research institute, which had been in "a big hole" that was getting deeper.

"Over the previous decade, our research funding had halved and so had staff numbers.  We didn't have much time to turn it around, two or three years at most."

Kaspar was the obvious research leader, Robertson said, respected, visionary,  and able to set up collaborations to give the private institute a head start in competing for funding. 

He said it was Kaspar who had persuaded Cawthron to buy the Glen hatchery in 1993, the genesis of the Cawthron Aquaculture Park.

Without Kaspar's leadership, "I don't think Cawthron would exist today as a research organisation",  Robertson said. 

Kaspar, who was Cawthron's research leader from 1990-99 and aquaculture group manager for the decade after that,  said he had worked with "a fantastic bunch" and he hadn't found any other research organisation with an equal passion for the work.  

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The opening of the SPATnz mussel hatchery at the aquaculture park in April this year was his proudest moment, he said, but his "most productive 10 minutes" was probably in 1987 when he pointed out to the Cawthron board and management how bad the institute's situation was. 

"Things were slithering downhill quite rapidly and it was the staff who had to pull the brake."

The institute, which has grown from 30 to 200 staff,  is a world leader in aquaculture research and development, and Kaspar said there was "huge potential", particularly for mussels, oysters, and salmon in spite of "big long legal battles".

"There's always one crowd that feels they get hard done by if somebody else gets an advantage or gets a right to use a common resource.

"The potential is there and sooner or later, I suppose, New Zealand will do it." 

He said he'd had "at least five distinct jobs" during his time at Cawthron, giving him a satisfying career without having to leave Nelson, which he loved. 

"I came at the right moment for me and I think I left at the right moment for me." 

He and his wife will travel to Europe for six months after Christmas and then return to Nelson.  They have no intention of moving away, Kaspar said. 


 - Stuff

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