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January 26, 2018
QUEST FOR SUSTAINABLE
Carol Ryan Dumas/Capital Press
Ron Hardy, director of
the University of Idaho
Institute, examines a
sample at the Hagerman
Fish Culture Experiment
Station on Nov. 27.
Ron Hardy built a fisheries research program respected around the world
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Ron Hardy has built a world-
class fish research facility at the
University of Idaho and is one of
the top scholars in his field world-
wide. His work has advanced the
scientific knowledge of fish nutri-
tion and genomics and sustainable
aquaculture and has contributed
substantially to fisheries manage-
His dedication, commitment
and tenacity no doubt have played
a huge part in that success — but
it might not have happened without
“I wanted to be a doctor, or I
thought I wanted to be a doctor,”
Hardy said, sitting in his office at
the University of Idaho Hagerman
Fish Culture Experiment Station.
He enrolled in a pre-med pro-
gram at the University of Wash-
ington and worked at the Northern
Pacific Railroad moving boxcars to
pay his way through college.
After earning a bachelor’s de-
gree in zoology in 1969, he went
to work at the university’s medical
school as a research technologist
for doctors working with patients
with kidney diseases. He worked
there for two years but decided
medicine was not for him.
He instead wanted to go into
agriculture like his father, who had
moved the family from Canada to
Washington when Hardy was a
baby to manage Washington State
University’s poultry farm.
Zoology was a little too academ-
ic for his taste, however, and he
wanted to pursue practical research.
Occupation: Director, University of Idaho Aquaculture Research Institute since
Career: 1996 to present — University of Idaho, professor, animal and veterinary
sciences; director of Hagerman Fish Culture Experiment Station (until 2016).
1984-1996 — Supervisory research chemist, Northwest Fisheries Science
Center, NOAA Fisheries, Seattle. 1984-1996 — Research assistant, associate
and full professor, University of Washington School of Fisheries, Seattle
Education: Ph.D. in fisheries, University of Washington, 1979; master’s degree
in nutrition, Washington State University, 1973; bachelor’s degree in zoology,
University of Washington, 1969
Author or co-author: More than 300 scientific papers on fish nutrition
The annual Capital Press salute
to Idaho’s Western Innovators
That took him to Washington State
University to work on an interdis-
ciplinary degree from the depart-
ments of animal sciences, biochem-
istry and food and human nutrition.
And it was there, on a routine
trip to the library, he happened upon
a book that would change his life.
That book — “Fish Nutri-
tion” by John Halver — had never
even been checked out, but it was
groundbreaking, he said.
The state of knowledge about
fish nutrition at the time was “zip”
and 30 years behind the progress
that had been made on nutrition for
other animals, he said.
The concept was “something
new” and the book was a “gold
mine,” he said.
Halver’s book was pretty ad-
vanced for fish nutrition, but re-
search on nutritional needs and
requirements was just getting
started in that arena.
Halver was a biochemist work-
ing for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser-
vice and approached fish nutrition
from a biochemical and physi-
ological standpoint. He was the
first person to put fish nutrition in
line with pigs, chickens and hu-
mans, Hardy said.
“So that appealed to me a lot.
He was a visionary,” he said.
Halver’s knowledge would
make it possible to develop fish
feed in pellet form to efficiently
raise fish on farms.
“I saw that right off the bat when
I read his book,” he said.
After earning a master’s degree
in nutrition in 1973, Hardy went
back to the University of Washing-
ton to study fish nutrition in a doc-
toral program. In the middle of his
studies, Halver took a position as a
professor at the university and was
a member of Hardy’s supervisory
committee. He was Hardy’s main
adviser on his Ph.D. research proj-
ect on fish nutrition, and Hardy was
his teaching assistant.
Their association would last de-
cades and result in their publishing
a third edition of Halver’s book to-
In the field
After earning a Ph.D. in fisher-
ies in 1978, Hardy joined the uni-
versity’s fisheries research faculty,
taught some classes — including
Halver’s introductory class for
undergraduates — and procured
grants and contracts.
A federal fisheries laborato-
ry — with nice equipment — was
nearby, and he started going there
to use that equipment. Eventually,
he was invited to work there at the
Northwest Fisheries Science Center
in a two-year intergovernmental ex-
change program. Upon completion,
he was offered a permanent posi-
tion at the laboratory.
He was advised to take a leave
from the university without pay so
he could return and take over Halv-
er’s position when he retired, which
was expected in the not-so-distant
“There was just one flaw —
Halver didn’t retire,” he said.
Hardy remained at the North-
west Fisheries Science Center for
12 years and was being groomed
for an executive position when he
got a call from an associate at the
University of Idaho who wanted
him to apply for a position with the
He wasn’t interested, but at the
associate’s insistence reluctant-
ly visited the university, where a
meeting had been arranged — un-
beknownst to Hardy — with the
What was presented was a brief
synopsis of what universities in the
West were doing in aquaculture and
what the University of Idaho was
aspiring to do.
“I was blown away. I was
amazed,” he said.
Later, the university flew him
in to meet with legislators and in-
dustry people and to see a federal
laboratory in Hagerman that had
been mothballed by U.S. Fish and
“The university had leased it and
wanted me to create something out
of it,” he said.
It was a small cinder-block facil-
ity that didn’t even meet fire codes,
but Hardy would have money to get
started and the university’s blessing
to do whatever he wanted.
“How can you resist that? So I
took the job,” he said.
He was set at his job in Wash-
ington, was offered the directorship
of the fisheries center if he stayed,
and no one could believe he walked
away, he said.
“But I decided it was time for a
change. I jumped at it. Six months
later, I thought I made the biggest
mistake of my life,” he said.
Creating something out of noth-
ing — something new that’s not
bumping up against entrenched,
successful laboratories — and mak-
ing it work is not easy, he said.
“That’s when I decided to put the
emphasis on genomics,” he said.
Technology and equipment to
Turn to HARDY, Page 17