CEOs at Sustainable Ocean Summit: Oceans' future lies in R&D

Published on
December 5, 2017

Energy conservation, collaboration, sustainability, and opportunity were the main themes expressed at the World Ocean Council’s fifth Sustainable Ocean Summit held in Halifax from 29 November to 1 December 1.

Leaders from the shipping, energy, and fishing sectors participating in the Ocean Executive Forum laid out a positive, rich, and vital future for ocean industries, provided research and development is properly funded and adopted.

Mike Utsler, chief operating officer for Australia-based Woodside Energy, said the world is getting more efficient in producing and consuming technologies, with innovation in energy production from oceans a particular bright spot. Utsler noted that a third of the world’s current energy production comes from oceans and that the total is expected to rise. 

“The challenge is to explore in ever-deeper water and create a smaller carbon footprint to produce hydrocarbons,” he said. “How we collaborate, innovate, and accelerate and work with all communities and industries is an imperative for the industry and all of us.”

Utsler projects bigger growth will come from alternative energies and harnessing ocean power, and he expects reliance on natural gas to also grow significantly. Liquid natural gas (LNG) is cleaner and cheaper than gasoline and diesel, and many maritime companies were converting to using it, Utsler said, citing the example of Norway, which plans to replace its entire coastal fleet with LNG vessels within the next five years. 

Ben Christian, vice president of marine services for ship management firm TOTE Services, agreed that conversion to LNG is a main thrust in the shipping sector, with a number of ships working in Alaska and along his company’s route between Florida and Puerto Rico using LNG.

“We see it as future-proofing, because we know there will be more restrictions and regulations. We see natural gas as a way to sustainably and safely more forward,” he said. “We see the next wave of development driven less by the expense side, and more by the revenue side. It could be a major retailer asking, ‘What are you doing on the environment side to improve your carbon footprint’?” 

That question becomes more important in light of the fact that the world’s total number of ships is increasing, according to Scott Bergeron, the CEO of the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry. Bergeron said regulatory emission standards and energy efficiency are the driving factors in current ship construction, with average ship sizes growing in response to a demand for greater efficiency. 

That demand for efficiency is also having an effect on global fishing, Bergeron said, with a mounting international push for increased enforcement on unreported and illegal fishing, and a growing demand for new regulations along the entire distribution chain to ensure the sustainability of the world’s catch. 

“Gone are the days when the purchase of a new device will meet requirements,” he said.

Conversations about energy use and reduction are about to hit the aquaculture industry very hard, Reenst Lesemann, CEO of Columbia Power Technologies, said during her talk. The aquaculture industry is sitting on the verge of a major shift, Lesemann said, as it will need to reduce its reliance on diesel due both to probable regulatory requirements as well as its rising cost compared to alternatives.

Technology and research – on energy and otherwise – are also playing a revolutionary role in the wild-catch fishing sector, Ian Smith, CEO of Halifax-based Clearwater Seafoods, noted in his talk. To meet growing demand for seafood and reduce its environmental footprint, Clearwater makes significant investments in research and development, which is helping reduce the cost to find, harvest, and process its catch, he said.

The industry must do a better job of marketing itself as a green alternative, Smith said, arguing that Canada’s fisheries are “one of our most abundant and renewal industries.”

The fishing industry creates “over CAD 6.5 billion [USD 5.1 billion, EUR 4.3 billion] in exports for Canada. That’s set to increase, as consumption in Asia is rising rapidly, he said.  Asia consumers already eat more than double the seafood protein that North Americans do, and Asia’s changing tastes and diet will drive demand for seafood quality seafood, Smith said. With the high demand and consumption rates in the Asian market for seafood and the benefits of the recently ratified Comprehensive European Trade Agreement (CETA), Smith is bullish on the potential to cement seafood as Asia’s go-to protein – a goal he said would have an incalculable environmental benefit, if handled correctly.

“We believe fishing industry innovation and private sector investment will unlock value of our resources and protect the environment,” Smith said. “And believe that a new ocean economy will create the next generation of good jobs, prosperity, and innovation.”

After the panel, in an interview with SeafoodSource, Smith further explained how he saw research benefiting the fishing industry.

“We’re there as an industry partner from the fishing industry to make sure that as we develop common platforms for groundbreaking research," Smith said. "Not just from a subsea resource standpoint, and oil and gas standpoint, wind and tidal energy standpoint, but that the research platform that we’re doing also incorporates fisheries."

(Pictured L to R: Mike Utsler, Woodside Energy; Ian Smith, Clearwater Seafoods; Ben Christian, TOTE Services: and Scott Bergeron, Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry.)

Reporting from Eastern Canada

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