Memorial Oration 8 October 2021 (see below for more information)
On 6th May 2020, Professor Sena De Silva, or as everyone used to call him – Sena, passed away in his home in Melbourne, surrounded by his loved ones, after over two years battling with cancer. As always, Sena was at ease in facing new challenges, and before passing, he said that he was ready to go.
Sena was a man with a razor-sharp intelligence and an incredible wealth of knowledge, but at the same time, a simple person, humble and truly compassionate for the less fortunate. Sena is leaving an enormous legacy to the aquaculture sector in its entirety; a legacy directly touching and benefitting aquaculture science, academia and scholarship, aquaculture real-world policies and practices and most importantly, aquaculture people.
Sena studied at the University of Ceylon, in Sri Lanka, and then in 1973 obtained his PhD at the University of Stirling, in Scotland, with a thesis on the ‘Clupeid populations of the West Coast of Scotland’. Then, Sena returned to Sri Lanka and started working as a lecturer at Vidyalankara University (1973–1978). He took a professor position at University of Ruhuna (1978–1988), where he also held a series of senior roles, and in 1989, Sena went to National University of Singapore, with a Visiting Commonwealth Professorship. In 1991, Sena moved to Australia and took a senior lecturer position at Deakin University, at the Warrnambool Campus. His career at Deakin then progressed quickly, obtaining a personal chair and full professorship in 1997. Ten years later, and as an excellent example of ‘do what you preach’ (from theoretical, scientific work, to hands-on real-world implementation, extension and capacity building) in 2006, Sena decided to leave academia and took the position of Director General, at the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) in Bangkok. In 2011, Sena ‘officially’ retired and returned to Australia where he continued to be very active in his research and scholarships endeavours, with some of his papers being currently in press.
In 2009, in collaboration with Albert Tacon, Sena conceived, founded and led, as editor in chief, a new scientific journal Reviews in Aquaculture. Sena first met Albert in the early 1980s in Stirling when he was a visiting researcher. They shared similar passions and started a long professional relationship of almost 40 years. They immediately clicked and also sometimes clashed with their peers concerning their unconventional backgrounds and beliefs, but they both had a passion of helping researchers in developing countries, where the bulk of aquaculture was being produced. Sena and Albert always kept in contact, and during one of the many times that they managed to get together was during an FAO Expert Workshop on the Use of Feed and Fertilizer for Sustainable Aquaculture Development held in Wuxi, China (18–21 March 2006). It was after this meeting, in the departure lounge of the airport, that Sena and Albert drafted a proposal to set up a new journal – Reviews in Aquaculture (RAQ) – and so in this way, they managed to stay connected with each other and the aquaculture community, including China. All RAQ abstracts are being translated into Chinese for the benefit of Chinese scientists – the first for an aquaculture journal at that time.
Throughout his career, Sena received numerous awards, including the first ever Doctor of Science from University of Stirling (1989) and an honorary Doctor of Science from University of Ruhuna (1996). Sena’s contributions to aquaculture and inland fisheries were also recognised by many awards outside of academia, such as the Honorary Life Membership of the World Aquaculture Society (2005), a Gold Medal Award and Honorary Life Membership by the Asian Fisheries Society (2004 and 2013), among many others.
Sena was a true academic, excelling at both education and research, and his academic contribution, as a researcher and an educator, was immense. As a teacher and mentor, Sena had the unique ability to identify potentials in people. He invested his energy and time to capacity build people, to prepare them for independence in their future roles as technicians, teachers, researchers, politicians etc. Sena advanced himself by bringing people along with him, and he was very inclusive and selfless in developing students and early-career researchers. Sena’s students can now be found in nearly every country where aquaculture is practiced, and many now are in high-level positions in governmental agencies, industry and academia. But also many of those he influenced can be found in rural villages, working at their farms, particularly across South East Asia.
Sena’s had several research interests and foci, and the two areas where he was most active and shone the most were fish nutrition and reservoir fisheries management. Throughout his career, Sena conceived and led a multitude of research projects, often international with focus on South-east Asian countries, and published extensively. According to Google Scholar, Sena had been cited in excess of 12 000 times and has an H-index of 61. But the most interesting aspect of Sena’s publication track record is the diversity and depth of his work. In fact, the work of Sena contributed to the advancement of aquaculture in a variety of scientific aspects, from fish nutrition to climate change, aquaculture and environment interactions, reservoir management, inland fisheries, biodiversity and alien (non-native) species, responsible aquaculture practices, reproduction and fish biology. Among his books, three important publications, that have been pioneering and represented important reference materials for many students and practitioners, were ‘Fish Nutrition in Aquaculture’ (1994, Chapman & Hall), ‘Success Stories in Asian Aquaculture’ (2010, Springer) and ‘Aquaculture in China: Success Stories and Modern Trends’ (2018, Wiley Blackwell).
Sena had a strong interest in international development, a theme woven throughout many of his research projects and through his association with NACA, which dates back to the beginnings of the organisation itself. In 1989, he represented the International Development Research Centre at a meeting of the Provisional Governing Council, where the decision to make NACA an inter-governmental organisation was made. Over the next thirty years, Sena worked in conjunction with NACA, developing and deploying projects across multiple disciplines in collaboration with scientists, local governments and agencies across the region. He provided input into NACA’s Governing Council and later served as a member of the Technical Advisory Committee and NACA Task Force.
In 2006, Sena was elected as Director General of NACA and served for five highly successful years, playing a key role in project development in areas including culture-based fisheries, the development of better management practices for Vietnamese catfish, management of reservoir fisheries, the use of remote sensing for inland fisheries management, reducing the dependence on trash fish in feeds for marine fish and climate change among others. During his term, NACA was selected to win the 2010–2011 Margarita Lizárraga Medal, conferred by FAO with recognition of its significant contribution to sustainable aquaculture development in the Asia and Pacific Region. His term culminated in the highly successful FAO/NACA Global Conference in Aquaculture 2010, held in Phuket, Thailand, where he presented the regional synthesis paper on Aquaculture Development in the Asia-Pacific. After retiring to Australia, he continued his research and collaboration on aquaculture development projects with NACA.
In addition to being an exceptional mind and his profound professional contribution to the aquaculture sector, Sena was a great human being. He was humble and warm, had a good sense of humour and was always kind and generous, without any prejudice or anger. Sena was able to motivate people to do their best, with charisma and empathy. Sena was always genuine to himself, and those who knew him have never seen him changing his behaviour an inch; being in his office editing a PhD thesis, or on the couch watching cricket on TV, in a wet laboratory stripping fish to collect faecal samples for digestibility measurements or giving a keynote talk in front of an audience of international delegate scientists, in a gala dinner entertaining high-level diplomats from all over the world, or in a rural village talking with fisherman and their families. Sena was always Sena, perfectly comfortable in any occasion and in any environment. And that is what made Sena a very special person.
‘What’ Sena did in his professional career was exceptional, but ‘how’ he did it was possibly even more special and important. He did it well, with grace, good humour, gentleness, dignity, compassion, skill, integrity and charm, and leaves behind for all of us working in the aquaculture sector an even greater legacy, and an example to aspire to.Memories from friends and colleagues:
- Sena was always ‘bigger than life’ for me. His ideas seemed to have a some kind of special significance, and his perspective on aquaculture and life seemed somehow more profound and wise; his jokes had a deeper meaning that went beyond the obvious punchline. In meetings or walking down the streets of Rome or Colombo or wherever, he seemed to be taller than everyone else even though he was of quite average height. We did not see each other often, but when we did, his friendship, his love of science and his genuine concern for others came somehow came through immediately. These rather undefinable qualities are what defined Sena for me. He enjoyed life, aquaculture and his many colleagues around the world – and we enjoyed and benefitted from him. He shall be missed but not forgotten. Devin Bartley, California, USA.
- Prof. Sena De Silva contributed his life to the expansion of aquaculture throughout Asia and beyond. While his core focus remained on technical dimensions of aquaculture production, his later work with NACA and book publications extended to the wider challenges and success stories of aquaculture policy and governance, as well as the societal contribution of booming aquaculture sectors across the region. The expansive view he developed over aquaculture are reflected in the disciplinary spread of papers he ushered through to publication in Reviews in Aquaculture. His work and good humour will remain influential in research and practice far into the future. Simon Bush, Wageningen University, The Netherlands.
- Sena was one of my very good friends, colleague, mentor and a true family member for me, Sunitha and Tejesvi. I have known and worked with Sena for several years, but my appreciation and respect for him and the values he believed in became strongly etched in my mind during my NACA days, when he served as DG of NACA. I will never forget the good days we spent together in Bangkok, especially his loud voice in dinners and parties telling me ‘Mohan, don’t convert my expensive malt whisky to beer’ when I use to add lots of ice and soda to my drink. Great Sena – We miss you. Mohan Chadag, WorldFish Centre, Malaysia.
- I am very saddened by the passing of Sena. He was a long-time professional colleague and most importantly a very good friend. I will particularly remember Sena as someone who really cared and worked very hard in pursuit of this caring! Sena will be missed…! Brian Davy, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.
- Sena was a gifted and generous man and instrumental in my decision to pursue a career in academia. Regardless of how busy he may have been, he always made time for his students and went to great lengths to ensure they were on the right path. Knowing first-hand how motivational this was, I now take this approach with the students I teach. Sena was my mentor, colleague and friend; I have fond memories of sampling our way through his extensive collection of single malt whisky, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the Sri Lankan and Australian cricket teams and debating global politics. He leaves behind a tremendous legacy and will be sorely missed. Rest in peace, Sena. David Francis, Deakin University, Australia.
- I was privileged to know Sena for many years as a professional colleague, mentor and close personal friend. He was of course a unique individual in so many ways. The ‘intellectual’ Sena was a dedicated and incredibly talented scientist and educator. He was passionate and relentless in his pursuit of new knowledge and in sharing that knowledge for the betterment of others, particularly those less fortunate in developing countries. In this respect, Sena’s legacy will be well remembered, respected and enjoyed by many, me included. However, for me, Sena was also just a very decent person and, most importantly, my good mate. I enjoyed his company and his friendship immensely, being fortunate enough to have worked and travelled extensively with him throughout the Indo-Pacific region, to so many countries and for so many projects over so many years I have lost count. His enthusiasm and great sense of fun was infectious and never failed to both inspire and entertain me and those around us. He was able to bridge cultural and social divides in way that was engaging, reassuring, good humoured and enlightened, a rare talent for sure. His was a life well lived, and I will miss him greatly. Geoff Gooley, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia.
- Sena, I will miss your strong engagement, your real, practical aquaculture issues, your sharp insight and your impactful contributions to our field. And we will miss your warmth, humour and good will. Eric Hallerman, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, USA.
- I first met Sena in the early 1990s while collaborating on fisheries projects with Deakin University, and from that time, I was fortunate enough to work with him on numerous projects both within Australia and across south-east Asia. My esteem for Sena grew over this time, particularly watching him strive to make a difference in everything he did. Regardless of whether you were an esteemed international scientist, a student or a small-scale farmer in a rural village, he was always generous with his time and knowledge.
- Sena always said that one of our most rewarding and successful projects was developing captive breeding techniques for two highly valued and threatened indigenous mahseer (empurau and semah) in Sarawak (Malaysia). Together with Geoff Gooley, Sih Yang Sim and Thuy Nguyen, the team worked well together and succeeded in breeding these fish for the first time. Our efforts were gratefully acknowledged by the Government of Sarawak, and publications from the work were well received by the scientific community. Sena was an incredible mentor, not only to me, but to so many people across the globe, always willing to share his knowledge and his passion. But more importantly, Sena was a great friend, and it was over many occasions, eating, drinking, laughing (and he had an incredibly infectious laugh), travelling and enjoying life that I will remember Sena most vividly. I will be forever grateful for Sena’s impact on my life, professionally and personally, and he will forever hold a special place in my heart. Brett Ingram, Victorian Fisheries Authority, Australia.
- I fondly remember the day I first met Prof. Sena. Our discussion was productive and enthusiastic. Later that same day, I was pleasantly surprised and very honoured that he wrote a letter of recommendation for my Ph.D. scholarship. He was a great teacher and inspiring mentor. I will forever be his humble student. He will be sorely missed by all of us. Tuantong Jutagate, Ubon Ratchathani University, Thailand.
- I first met Sena in 1990 through the Canadian International Development Research Center (IDRC). His special leadership abilities and charismatic personality were readily apparent. This first encounter marked the beginning of our long-standing professional relationship and scholarly collaboration through graduate students and two successful Asian Fish Nutrition workshops held in India and Thailand as well a training course for fish nutritionists in Asia. Sena was a cherished colleague, scholar and friend, who will be missed by many, but will never be forgotten by those who were fortunate enough to have known him. His vision and significant lifetime commitment to aquaculture remains with us. Let us preserve his legacy with continued efforts to develop excellent leadership in science and global aquaculture. Santosh P. Lall, National Research Council, Halifax, Canada.
- I met Sena in 1988 for the first time, and we have met each other almost every year and become close friends. Sena is not only a top aquaculture scientist, but also a real gentleman. He said that China is the biggest producer for aquaculture and you should have your experiences shared with the world, which always raise me up. We have co-supervised dozens of post-graduate students and co-published dozens of peer reviewed English papers on aquaculture and the book Aquaculture in China: Success Stories and Modern Trends. Sena will be remembered by the Chinese aquaculture sector and missed by myself for ever. Jiashou Liu, Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China.
- I met Sena for the first time when I participated in a workshop on Aquaculture Education which was organised by him. I could feel that he was knowledgeable, kind and supportive. Our connection was tightened when he became the Director General of NACA, especially when he introduced Thuy to work in my laboratory. This has strengthened our relationship and also research capacity of my laboratory. He and Thuy have given me invaluable support during my toughest time, and with their help, my most important mission was well accomplished. I learnt a lot from him especially his unconditional help that he had given to young scientists in these regions. I believe that he is now watching us from heaven. Sena, you are always in my memory. Uthairat Na-Nakorn, Kasetsart University, Thailand.
- I was first introduced to Sena when he visited Penang in 1999 as a keynote speaker of a national aquaculture symposium our university was organising. At that time, I was an early-career lecturer having started just two years prior and was still speaking with an American accent after completing my studies in the United States. We immediately clicked over our mutual interest in aquaculture nutrition, maintained contact and later on when Sena became the Director General of NACA, I was actively involved in several of his research and development projects. He was also instrumental in roping me to be on the editorial board of various journals when he was the Editor-in-Chief, including Reviews in Aquaculture. Sena was an easy person to talk to and to seek professional and personal advice. Life as a researcher is challenging here in Asia, and it was good to have a confidant to share academic life’s ups and downs. I will miss his friendship and mentorship. Rest in peace, my friend. Wing-Keong Ng, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia.
- I met Sena in 2008. Although the time was not as long as I have wished, Sena left me with many unforgettable impressions. Sena brought to Nha Trang University short-term training programs on economic management in aquaculture, broodstock management and culture-based fisheries with support from the UNU-FTP Iceland during 2010 – 2017 period. These courses have helped improving capability and visibility of our university. Sena has a special love for Nha Trang University and vice versa. Hung Quoc Pham, Nha Trang University, Vietnam.
- Sena leaves a huge legacy and so many memories for me that are hard to distil into a short statement. I first met Sena in the 1980s at the Institute of Aquaculture of the University of Stirling and had the pleasure to know and work with him for many years, during his tenure at the University of Ruhana, Deakin University and leadership at NACA. A flood of memories came to me when I heard the news of his passing, from years of travelling, working, socialising and of course brainstorming and strategising around so many issues. I am forever grateful for the privilege of knowing Sena, a true great of aquaculture and fisheries, with an unforgettable legacy that touched and touches the lives of so many. Rest in peace Sena my friend. Michael Phillips, WorldFish Centre, Malaysia.
- As a teacher, Sena was never tired of spending time to guide me to the right academic pathway. As a leader in the workplace, he always encouraged and drove me for my self-development. As a friend, he always welcomed me to his residence for great meals, bottomless drinks, and great joy of teasing each others. I am very fortunate to know Sena in my life. Sih Yang Sim, Malasyia.
- With Sena, we lose a great scientist, devoted teacher, charismatic manager and above all a dear friend. I first met Sena at the FAO Aquaculture Conference in Kyoto in June 1975: we were both young scientists, very ambitious to make a career in aquaculture. In the 1980s, he invited us to help producing course material on ‘live food production’ for Deakin University where he was teaching. During his tenure as Director General of NACA, we interacted a lot because of our joint interests and involvement in education and research with a number of institutions in SE Asia. It was during that time that he facilitated the first education network in fisheries and aquaculture in Asia, promoting these institutions to cooperate and interact for the benefit of their students. Back at Deakin, we often interacted about topics for papers for the great journal he launched and is so successful Reviews in Aquaculture. Sena’s legacy in the world of aquaculture will be carried along by his many overseas students, colleagues and friends from all over the world. May his soul rest in peace. Patrick Sorgaloos, Ghent University, Belgium.
- I met Sena in April 2008 in Rome when we organised the first FAO meeting on climate change fisheries and aquaculture. Since then, we became good friends and had a continuous and rich interaction about aquaculture and climate change but also on how to find and implement a path for sustainable aquaculture to meet future food fish demand. Coming from Latin America, meeting Sena was very significant for me. He widened my understanding of aquaculture relevance and perspectives in Asia including the diverse interactions between fisheries and aquaculture which was very relevant for my work in FAO. Through the years, we entangled in so many interesting and heated discussions about the sector and about other issues, but overall he was a good friend, a good mentor and a very good and caring colleague, always ready to share his knowledge. He paved a path for aquaculture development and left a legacy that will last. I already miss him and am sorry that did not had the chance to properly say goodbye. Doris Soto, University of Concepción, Chile.
- Professor Sena De Silva, Sena we lovingly called, and I were friends and colleagues for more than four decades. My memories of our years of personal and professional interactions will remain. I lost a good friend. May he attain the supreme bliss of nibbana. Rohana Subasinghe, FutureFish, Sri Lanka.
- Sena had truly great patience to improve young researchers in China. From 2014, Sena had visited Wuhan two times every year when he was awarded a Visiting Professorship for Senior International Scientists by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). During 2014–2020, Sena had helped more than 40 master and PhD students in CAS in many aspects of academic research such as experiment design, field investigation, data analysis, paper publication and so on. Even in the last weeks of his life, Sena still ‘pushed’ young researcher to work hard on paper publication and professional promotion. As a mentor and friend, he was among the most selfless and humble. The Chinese aquaculture sector has lost a great mentor and a true friend in the world. Qidong Wang, Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China.
- Dear Sena, it was a real honour for me to be acquainted with you as a friend and a coworker in my aquaculture career. I was fortunate that I could witness and participate in some of your great works, the publications on success aquaculture stories in Asia and China, the 2010 Global Aquaculture Conference and journal Reviews in Aquaculture… I have been so deeply impressed by your frankness, honesty and perseverance with your friends and your work. Your spirit will inspire many to devote to sustainable aquaculture for all the well-being of humankind! Miao Weimin, Food and Agriculture Organisation, Rome, Italy.
Compiled by Giovanni Turchini, Simon Wilkinson, Albert Tacon.