The international fisheries community is deeply saddened and shocked to learn of the untimely passing of Olaf Weyl, Chief Scientist at South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity and South African Research Chair in Inland Fisheries and Freshwater Ecology. Dr. Weyl was universally loved and respected across the fisheries profession. With over 160 peer-reviewed journal articles, Olaf was a talented and prolific scientist whose research team addressed a wide range of fish ecology problems. His team addressed conservation and impacts of nonnative fishes on endemic fish communities, and evaluation of factors influencing the quality of recreational fisheries. Olaf had an infectious laugh and a true passion and curiosity about fisheries and fish ecology. The outpouring from the international community is a clear sign of his impact on so many lives and on our profession. He will be deeply missed throughout the world. A tribute from his home institution can be found here, and a full obituary will follow in Fisheries.
- Mike Allen, University of Florida
To honour Olaf’s life, we are also inviting people to send or leave flowers at the front gate or lawns of SAIAB:
To send flowers to Grahamstown see https://www.floraniche.co.za/south-africa/flower-delivery-to-grahamstown.
The street address is NRF/SAIAB, Somerset Street, Makhanda/Grahamstown.
Due to Covid-19 access restrictions, florists can be instructed to leave flowers at the gate and we will gather and place them.
Also, should anyone wish to leave a personal messages of condolence for Michelle, Olivia and Philippa and their extended family, we have set up a dedicated email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. These messages will be redirected to the family.
A dedicated memorial page on Memories.net: https://memories.net/timeline/olaf-weyl-69791#.X7GB79ghSWM.link.
Journal of Fish Biology Obituary
Professor Olaf Lawrence Fredrick Weyl
Professor Olaf Weyl was born in Giesen, Germany, but moved to Africa at an early age as a result of his father’s work in international development. He completed his BSc at Rhodes University, South Africa, before embarking on an MSc, rapidly upgraded to a PhD, on The dynamics of a sub-tropical lake fishery in central Mozambique under Professor Tom Hecht at Rhodes. After completing his PhD, Olaf moved to Malawi where he worked as fisheries research and management advisor to the Department of Fisheries (1998-2002). During this period he learned much about interacting with experienced scientists and managers, something he carried through the rest of his career. He returned to South Africa in 2003 first as a Post-Doctoral fellow and then as Senior Lecturer in the Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science at Rhodes University (2004-2009). Thereafter, Olaf seized on an opportunity to grow his research career and was employed by the National Research Foundation at the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (NRF-SAIAB), initially as a Senior Scientist in 2009, then Principal Scientist in 2012, and Chief Scientist in 2017. This calculated move to a National Facility resulted in Olaf using his skills and global network to build multiple collaborations with researchers from across Southern African and globally in the fields of fish ecology, invasion biology and inland fisheries management. He built a strong and dynamic research group in SAIAB that without doubt will miss his leadership and boundless drive. In 2017 Olaf was awarded the South African Research Chair in Inland Fisheries and Freshwater Ecology, which was testimony to his outstanding work in the pursuit of excellence in both inland fisheries and freshwater invasion biology.
Olaf had a profound impact on both the research and applied aspects of fisheries science and ably bridged the gap between these two very different discourses. He was a prolific author with over 220 peer-review papers, with many more to come from the legacy he leaves behind. He served as Assistant Editor for Journal of Fish Biology and Associate Editor for Aquatic Invasions, African Zoology, Biological Invasions, and BioInvasions Records. Sustained research outputs and a high standing resulted in his appointment as a Professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough (Canada), Adjunct Professor at University of Nebraska Lincoln (USA), Honorary Professor at Rhodes University (South Africa) and a Core Team Member at the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology (University of Stellenbosch, South Africa). He was also the Regional Chair for Southern Africa in the Freshwater Fish Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), Scientific Committee member of the Future Earth bioDISCOVERY Core Project, and lead author for the IPBES assessment report on invasive alien species and an expert for the IPBES nexus assessment scoping report. He contributed to the development of South African policy frameworks including the National Strategy on Alien and Invasive species and the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act: Alien and Invasive Species Regulations and Lists and National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act.
Olaf was an incredibly gregarious character, which he attributed to his formative days meeting and talking with consultants visiting and working with his father. It was inevitable that Olaf would work in fisheries: he developed a passion for nature as he grew up in Zimbabwe and was an avid and excellent angler. He was never happier than when trying to catch fish in remote areas or showing you his favourite fishing spots. Olaf passed away doing what he loved best, chasing fish in mountain streams.
He had an infectious personality, formidable intellect and wicked humour. He was incredibly forward thinking and was at the forefront of research and policy to promote sustainable development of fish and fisheries and aquatic ecosystems in African inland waters, but he never forgot his roots in aquatic ecology and conservation. He brought a unique blend of fisheries science and management to a wide audience, from academics to managers to fishers to landowners, and was always willing to offer his support and knowledge to identify solutions to wider environmental conflicts. Indeed, just days before he sadly passed away, Olaf submitted the edited proofs of a paper to the African Journal of Aquatic Sciences entitled “Ten research questions to support South Africa’s Inland Fisheries Policy”, which exemplifies his amazing ability to bridge science and policy. This remarkable ability was especially valuable when dealing with what he described as 'wicked problems' in society, as when bridging the deep chasm of mistrust between the anglers and authorities wishing to regulate alien sport fishes in South Africa. As an active party to both communities, he understood where each came from and what was desirable and achievable in seeking a solution. It is credit in no small way to his contributions that, after many years, the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEM:BA) regulations including all major freshwater fish alien species in South Africa, were finally approved and signed into law by the Minister earlier this year.
Olaf had a special talent in attracting excellent students from all corners of the subcontinent at a time when there is a desperate need to grow and transform the discipline in Africa. With his teams of postgraduate students and postdocs, he was supportive of numerous fisheries research and management projects across the region. Throughout these projects, Olaf was a constant source of encouragement and guidance, not only to his researchers but also to everyone engaged in fisheries activities in the region. The research results from his numerous projects provided the scientific justification for sound management and legislation, while at the same time supporting research capacity development and leaving in place trained scientists in countries across southern-central Africa. At conferences on fish, fisheries and other aquatic research disciplines throughout Africa, he and his students were invariably prominent contributors and active participants in discussions and future planning.
Through his remarkable academic leadership and outsized personality he was able to coax tremendous loyalty, dedication and productivity from his colleagues, post-docs and students. The personal tributes that have flowed forth from his team following his passing illustrate just how deeply he engaged with every one of them. In all, he leaves a massive institutional gap, and it will be very difficult to fill. In part, the tragedy of his passing at this time is that the educational and mentoring aspect of his life-journey, building a new science generation in Africa, was just hitting full stride.
Dr Angus Paterson of SAIAB and a close friend of Prof Weyl summed up his life so perfectly: “Olaf was in so many ways a giant of man with an intellect that could only be matched by his inordinate ability to love and nurture those around him”. He will be sadly missed by his family, friends, colleagues and all those that had the pleasure of knowing and working with him.
Olaf is survived by his wife Michelle, twin daughters Phillipa and Olivia, parents Ulrich and Gaby, brothers Michael and Phillip, and sisters Julia and Anika. He was highly respected and the impact of his research, mentoring and larger than life personality will continue to resonate in Africa and beyond for a long time.
Ian G. Cowx, University of Hull International Fisheries Institute, Hull, UK
Denis Tweddle and Paul Skelton, South Africa Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, Makhanda, South Africa
Nicholas Mandrak, University of Toronto Scarborough, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
From others in the InFish community:
"On behalf of InFish, we are deeply saddened at the untimely loss of our dear colleague and friend – Olaf was an active and much beloved member of our network and he will be dearly missed from our community. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to have known such a wonderful person. If any of us can live half as happy as Olaf, we will live fun and fulfilled lives, indeed. Our sincerest condolences to his family and friends around the world." - Abigail Lynch, U.S. Geological Survey
"I first met Dr. Olaf L.F. Weyl when he visited Sri Lanka in October 2004 to participate in a reservoir conference organized by German Technical Cooperation (GTZ). We have edited and published the paper that he has presented in the conference (Weyl, Ole L.F. (2008) Lessons learnt from 10-years of co-management in Lake Malombe, Malawi, Africa and their applicability to Sri Lanka’s perennial reservoirs. pp. 1-16. In: M.J.S. Wijeyaratne and U.S. Amarasinghe (eds) Participatory Approaches in Reservoir Fisheries Management: Issues, Challenges and Policies. Sri Lanka Association for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Colombo, Sri Lanka). He will be sorely missed by inland fisheries researchers!" - Upali S. Amarasinghe, University of Kelaniya
"Olaf was a great friend to many and a champion of freshwater fish biodiversity and conservation. He will be remembered for his passion for field work, his gift as a mentor, his commitment to capacity building in Africa, and his larger-than-life presence. Tight lines Olaf." - Steve Cooke, Carleton University
"Olaf was such a wonderful person, and he will be dearly missed. Attached is a photo with Olaf, Jean Vitule and Kirk Winemiller from a trip we made to Brazil." - Julian Olden, University of Washington
"My connection with Olaf was virtual, but he helped me convey an idea of great importance. As the editor of Fisheries magazine, I had long struggled with the need to convey the idea that aquatic biological invasions were a two-way street, and that the invasion of North American species on other continents was just as important European and Asian species becoming established in the U.S. It was the problem that not enough people were thinking about, but there just weren’t any good manuscripts that I could get my hands on to illuminate the problem. I saw Olaf’s presentation about smallmouth bass in South Africa at an AFS meeting and reached out to him. He sent us a beautifully written paper that we published in Fisheries. It was one of the most interesting papers we published that year, and it was the perfect story to get people thinking about the idea that aquatic biological invasions were a global problem. During my tenure as an editor I handled hundreds of manuscripts but his was one of the most interesting and exciting and I remember it to this day. Thinking back, I am now certain that my brief collaboration with Olaf left a little spark that smoldered for years as a tiny connection to the African continent that has now burst into flame, both personally and professionally." - Jeff Schaeffer, Tennessee Tech University