News » So Long! And Thanks for the Fish

The South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity recently bid farewell to its Managing Director, Professor Paul Skelton. Skelton has lead this institute for the past 16 years and under his strong leadership SAIAB has become a leading academic institution for Ichthyology in Africa.

Skelton’s association with SAIAB goes back to when the institution was the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology. Skelton grew up in Johannesburg and moved to Grahamstown to further his studies. He completed a BSc in Zoology and Entomology at Rhodes University in 1969. In 1970 he completed his BSc Honours in Zoology which was followed by an MSc upgraded to a PhD in Ichthyology. He worked closely with Margaret Smith who was then Director of the JLB Smith Institute. In 1980 he was awarded the first PhD in Ichthyology ever conferred by Rhodes University. Cumulatively, Skelton spent 44 years as a student and a teacher through his association with Rhodes. 

The JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology was established by Prof Margaret Smith in 1968 and supported jointly by Rhodes University and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. In 1980 the institute was declared a Cultural Institution under Act 29 of 1969 to be funded by the Department of National Education. It was set to become a Provincial Museum when Skelton intervened and negotiated the institute’s future as a national facility, which he regards as his greatest achievement. In 1999 it became a National Research Foundation research facility and was renamed SAIAB. SAIAB and the Rhodes Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science (DIFS) maintain strong relations with DIFS students often supervised by SAIAB’s researchers.

At a cocktail function held in Skelton’s honour at SAIAB, Professor Alan Whitfield praised Skelton for his integrity and honesty in his leadership. “He saw problems not as problems but as challenges.” Skelton humbly thanked the SAIAB staff for their hard work in the many years he spent working with them and commented that the SAIAB staff is a “powerful group of individuals” that will take this institution even higher. He went on to wish Dr Angus Paterson, who is taking over from him, good luck. “He is an energetic young man who knows this institute’s traditions and I know he will do well,” he said.

Paterson (shown in the pic above) is also former Rhodent. After matriculating he came to Rhodes University to do both his undergraduate and post graduate studies. Paterson always wanted to be a scientist; he discovered his love for fish when he was still a young boy and during his university years set his sights on working at the Institute. He joined the JLB Smith Institute for Ichthyology in 1996 as a Research Assistant. Exposed to passionate scientists who were enthusiastic and knew so much about their science, Paterson was intimidated but was determined to further his career. In 2000 he joined an environmental consulting firm,   Coastal & Environmental Services, in Grahamstown as a consultant where he quickly progressed to becoming a partner and Business Operations Director. Paterson hopes to bring transformation within both the senior and lower levels of the institute’s academic component, to extend the research platform to serve the research community and to work on the sustainability of the institution in the long run.

Staff and friends, old and new, gathered in the new Margaret Smith Library at SAIAB to say farewell to Prof Paul Skelton.


 Prof Skelton laughs with guests at his gift from the SAIAB Exec - a caricature depicting his various and varied interests.