KINGSTON, R.I. – December 10, 2018 – Michael Rice, a professor of fisheries and aquaculture at the University of Rhode Island, has been awarded a lifetime achievement award from the government of the Philippines for his many years of work supporting the country’s aquaculture industry. He is just the second foreign national to receive the honor.
The award was presented at a ceremony Nov. 22 attended by numerous government and industry leaders and covered by the national media.
“This is a big deal in the Philippines because they see fisheries as almost a national security issue,” said Rice, who has taught at URI since 1987 and speaks two Philippine languages. “There’s even talk of elevating the fisheries agency to a cabinet level office.”
The Outstanding Leadership and Devoted Service in Aquaculture award was presented jointly by the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the Society of Aquaculture Engineers of the Philippines, and the Philippine Aquaculture Society. As part of the ceremony, Rice put his footprints in concrete for display as part of a monument to the awardees.
Rice has been traveling to the Philippines to conduct fisheries research, advise government agencies, and teach about aquaculture for more than 35 years.
He began as a Peace Corps volunteer assigned to the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries from 1981 to 1985, where he designed the country’s first depuration system to rid farmed oysters of impurities. He was also the first to raise valuable grouper in floating pens in a local estuary. President Ferdinand Marcos took notice of Rice’s work, which led to the establishment of a national aquaculture laboratory that now includes a 50-acre compound of aquaculture research ponds.
“I just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” said Rice.
In 1996 and 1997, he was again in the right place at the right time when he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to teach at Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University in the Philippines and advise the Bureau of Fisheries. That’s when a series of massive fish kills occurred around the island nation. Rice was assigned to work with the chief fish pathologist in the Bureau of Fisheries to determine the cause of the fish mortalities and make recommendations to improve the health of the fish.
“We published our findings, and people ignored it for 15 years until more fish kills happened,” Rice recalled. “Now that publication is standard reading material for all young fisheries scientists in the Philippines who are studying for their fisheries board examinations.”
Rice returned to the Philippines in 2006 to teach a graduate course at the University of San Carlos in Cebu, and he has made several other consulting trips as well.
Since 2015, he has also taken URI students to the Philippines national aquaculture laboratory every January for a two-week course in fisheries and aquaculture.
“The Bureau of Fisheries takes care of the students very well,” said Rice. “It touts itself as an international training center, so they even subsidize the trip so our students have to pay very little to attend.”
The award presentation followed a ceremony on Nov. 20 in Iloilo City to inaugurate the URI Fish Right Program, funded with a $25 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the largest grant in URI’s history. The project, led by Rice and Elin Torell and Glenn Ricci of URI’s Coastal Resources Center at the Graduate School of Oceanography, aims to reform the Philippines fisheries industry, which is declining largely due to destructive fishing practices, typhoons and coastal degradation. URI President David M. Dooley was a featured speaker at the launch of the program.