by Jenee Odani
CTAHR’s Outstanding Alumnus Award pays posthumous tribute to a distinguished graduate who has made important local, national, and international contributions—this describes the notable career of Dr. Lei Yamasaki.
A Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences graduate, Lei was a nationally recognized shrimp disease expert and instrumental in maintaining the health of Hawaiʻi’s aquaculture animals. As the HDOA’s Aquaculture Veterinary Medical Officer, she worked closely with producers and regulatory agencies to develop the state’s culturally and economically valuable aquaculture industry. She supervised the Hawaiʻi Shrimp Health Certification Program and provided services to support the industry she loved. Twice each year, Lei collected samples from every shrimp exporting facility in the state, submitted them for testing, and issued more than 800 export permits annually. This enabled Hawaiʻi’s shrimp and prawns to achieve their status as the state’s 4th-highest valued export in 2020 (after scrap metals and aircraft and parts), at $20+ million annually. On the research side, she helped develop the feminization of swordtails, studied the presence of Nile tilapia and Francisella orientalis in Hawaiʻi, and conducted molecular and histologic diagnostics for fish, shrimp, and oyster pathogens.
Lei was a fervent supporter of education and aquaculture in the community as a Hawaiʻi State Science & Engineering Fair judge, Technical Committee member for the Center for Tropical and Subtropical Aquaculture, Advisory Subcommittee member on invertebrate and aquatic biota for the State of Hawaiʻi – always with endless energy and a smile that lit up the room.
Above all, Lei was a dedicated and respected veterinarian who loved and was loved by a menagerie of animals over the years, including her beloved Simon, Emma, Mao, Copper, Atsila, and many others.