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NMRHS grad Manomaitis a citizen of the world

PEPPERELL — Why would a 1989 North Middlesex Regional High School (NMRHS) graduate spend part of a vacation ice fishing in the middle of a pond in Pepperell instead of beaching it in some warmer climate?

For Lukas Manomaitis it is a matter of common sense. He’s a Pepperell native who majored in aquaculture in college. He loves the outdoors, runs a seafood consulting business and he is vacationing in Pepperell because his home is in Bangkok, Thailand.

Normalcy is different for Manomaitis. He holds a dual citizenship (U.S. and Lithuania), speaks several languages (Lithuanian, English, Spanish, Fijian and Thai) and has traveled much of the world (Japan, Thailand, Nepal, India, Dubai, Turkey, Poland, Lithuania and more).

Most of his work in his business — Seafood Consulting Associates established in 2001 — is in areas such as Indochina, Vietnam and Indonesia. Manomaitis is also a senior partner of Aquaculture Global Consulting.

Since his parents, Augiras and Renata Manomaitis, live in Pepperell, he was vacationing here this month.

“I was inspired about working with fisheries by my high school teacher, Russell White, and to learn about meteorology and oceanography,” Manomaitis said. “He took me to Belize and the Possum Biological Tropical Field Station there and Woods Hole Institute, etc.”

During high school, he worked three summers at the former Bemis Bag Company where he said he learned a lot, and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

“The Bosnian War and Rwanda was going on, and I felt the need to do something for people,” he said. “I didn’t have much money to give, and I discovered that a lot of aid donations were being siphoned off by organizations. Plus I wanted to work with fisheries, so I joined the Corps.”

In Fiji, a land of former cannibals, Manomaitis lived in one of five jungle villages ruled by a king. He taught indigenous people about the value of protein, and helped them raise Talapia to sell as an economic exercise.

“The joke there was that the last person eaten was in 1959,” he said.

He spoke of sweating so hard that water would literally run off the body, and of five baths a day in freshwater pools. He spoke of learning local customs, and living as a Fijian attired in sarongs and sandals.

“As is true anywhere, it’s the people that make a difference,” Manomaitis said. “I always say Fiji was the toughest fun I’ll ever have.”

He stayed there for two years, having extended his tour to work as a consultant for a Minneapolis-based waste management firm. Then he traveled the world for the first time.

Back in the states, he worked as the project manager for the red snapper program at the Claude Peteet Mariculture Center in Gulf Shores, Ala. He left that position to obtain a graduate degree in aquaculture from Auburn University.

“I began to visit more seafood processing plants and learn more about the industry,” he said. “I worked as a consultant for Auburn, creating a course for water quality management for use by the University of the North in South Africa.”

Bangkok was in his future, although he was not aware of it when he applied for work on a sea grant job in Mobile, Ala.

“They quoted me a pretty good salary, but when I got there the actual offer was much lower,” he said. “A week later I left for Asia without a job.”

However, he had an ace in the hole due to a friendship with a professor from the Asian Institute of Technology in Fiji.

“The first week I went to a big conference,” he said. “It was similar to my college days when my friends were out drinking, and I’d be hob-knobbing with Asians. It’s all about being connected; networking.

“It’s hard to find a full-time job in Asia,” he said. “I’m American, I needed work permits and there is keen competition. Yet, I realized there was enough consulting work to be done.

“My first major client was Stavis Seafood of Boston. They were (in Bangkok) gathering information and checking HACCP processing plants, etc.,” said Manomaitis. “Then it was the American Soybean Association of St. Louis working on a long-term soy-in-aquaculture project in four nations: India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Soy, he said, is used in fish feed. Ninety percent of the world’s fish farms are in Asia. Harvesting fish to feed other fish is not feasible because of limited supply. Fish love the plant-based food, they grow faster, have a lower mortality rate and it costs less.

Manomaitis’ clients include fish farms in Mexico, China, Lebanon and the Philippines.

“I want to do more with Europe,” he said.

“Bangkok is low cost with a high standard of living,” he said. “Medical care is high class, and costs less than $1,000 per year.”

However, the waterways through the city are polluted, and two-cycle engines create smog that settles onto everything outside and inside his home.

Unmarried, Manomaitis said he has been introduced to eligible women, but has put off marriage until he is sure he has enough money to educate his future children.

As in the U.S., women have an increasingly important role in Asia.

“Women in Asia are the business,” he said. “Many out-earn men.”

“My big regret is not seeing my family here and in Lithuania,” Manomaitis said. “I have land in Maine, and I miss sailing and fishing.

“Having left and come back, I appreciate Pepperell a lot more,” he said. “Visually, it is small-town America.”

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