Friends remember researcher Syd Kraul, who leaves behind an ocean-sized legacy

  • Syd Kraul.

KAILUA-KONA — He was the master of mahimahi, the man many in the aquaculture community knew as the go-to when it came to rearing any impossible-to-raise fish.

Such as angelfish and yellow tang.

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Syd Kraul had broken through spawning and growing those aquarium species — another example of his pioneering — and was about to expand the commercial sale for the desirable catch before he became ill.

But Kraul was more than a researcher.

He was also a funny, quick-witted Hawaii boy through and through. He was waterman who followed his daily swim or surf with naps in the sand, who knew the entire beach community around Honokohau Harbor so well he could never leave on time.

His wife, Lois Diane Kraul, often left him chatting with his friends on those visits and waited for him in the car.

“He would just say, ‘Oh, I got to go, my wife left me,’” Lois Diane recalled. “He just couldn’t help himself, he just liked people. He just liked to talk.”

Kraul, 74, died Dec. 23 at his Kailua-Kona residence from a brain tumor. He was an aquaculture researcher who worked for Kampachi Farms in the successful business’s founding years and later became the owner of Pacific Planktonics at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority.

He’s well known internationally for his groundbreaking ability to raise fish from the egg phase on up, from food fish like ahi and mahimahi to reef fish.

“I’ll take them and I’ll play with them,” Kraul would say when approached by another researcher looking for advise in raising fish — any kind of fish.

“That’s what he did,” said Dale Sarver, research biologist for Kampachi Farms. “He just had a feeling for things. He was just good at it, really good at it.”

Sarver fist met Kraul when Sarver was a grad student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Kraul, at the time, was working at the Waikiki Aquarium and had established his reputation as a pioneer in research, having successfully raised mahimahi, the first to accomplish the feat.

“He knew more about mahimahi than anybody in the world at that point,” Sarver said.

Kraul, however, was never one to act bigger than thou. He mentored young researchers such as Sarver. In fact, it would be common to see students — as young as high school during his Big Island days — learning at the popular researcher’s hip.

After the Oahu years, Sarver and Kraul reconnected at NELHA, when Sarver asked Kraul to work for Kampachi. It wasn’t long before Kraul successfully raised amberjack, a popular fish for human consumption, a pioneering feat in that field, as well.

“He had a really good intuitive sense of what to try,” Sarver said.

It was around 2006, when Kraul’s efforts zeroed in on aquarium fish. His tanks at Pacific Planktonics brimmed with flame angelfish, multicolor angelfish and yellow tang. The tang, in particular, is in high demand and very difficult to raise.

But Kraul — born in Seattle, raised on Oahu and a Vietnam War Navy veteran — had cracked the code.

He sold them commercially and was about to expand the venture before he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in November 2018. The discovery came after he underwent an MRI complaining of fatigue.

“It’s no secret. It’s just about getting the right balance of food in the water,” Kraul told West Hawaii Today in a June 2014 article on his work raising acquarium fish. “Put in too much food and the fish are going to die. You’re feeding itty-bitty larvae with food that’s not much bigger than bacteria. They need the food but they need clear water. That’s the challenge.”

He always was happy to detail the science to students, young researchers or reporters.

“Syd was wonderful in explaining the technicality to us,” said Tim Tricas, professor of biology at UH Manoa.

Like Sarver, Tricas was a grad student when he sought out Kraul for advice — the latter’s reputation already preceding him in the late 197os in Waikiki.

Ricas, researching butterfish, explained what he was after. He wanted them to spawn.

“Oh yeah, that’s easy,” Kraul told him. The recipe’s secret was the right pre-hormone injection into the female butterfish’s ovaries. Tricas tried it and it was a success.

“We couldn’t do that without Syd being so open and interested,” he said.

Later, Tricas and his wife became friends with the Krauls. The couples dined regularly at Bueno Nalo Mexican restaurant in Waimanalo. He was a true partner, Tricas said, funny, compassionate, caring and deep. Everyone Kraul came across would likely say the same.

“He would be in the top 5 of almost everyone he knew closely,” Tricas said. “He was a full friend.”

A memorial service is 4-7:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at the NELHA Gateway Visitor Center.

He is survived by wife, Lois Diane Kraul; stepmother, Dora Kraul of Hilo; stepsister, Pamela Fern of Honolulu; stepbrother, Jonathan Rickard of California; hanai sister, Audrey Wilson of Volcano; numerous friends and cousins.

“It was really touching to me so many people cared and had such an attachment to him that I never even realized,” said Lois Diane on the condolences sent by community members, many of them beachgoers, after Kraul’s death. “He kind of had a life of his own down there, which was wonderful.”

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The couple, married 52 years, met in high school in New York.

“We had a year to say goodbye, essentially. I think we did it well,” Lois Diane added. “Hopefully, he’s out there surfing somewhere in the universe. That’s my vision for him.”

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