Both aquaculture and fisheries stand to benefit from new cross-sectorial CAD 29 million ocean innovation project

Published on
July 28, 2020

Canada’s Ocean Supercluster – an industry-led cluster model driving cross-sectoral collaboration – has announced the Ocean Aware project, a new CAD 29 million (USD 21.7 million, EUR 18.4 million) endeavor dedicated to developing and commercializing solutions for monitoring fish health, fish movement, and the environment.

According to the project announcement released on 28 July, Ocean Aware aims to bring stakeholders across ocean industries together to establish world-leading aquaculture technology for monitoring fish health; to create new approaches to stock assessment modeling and predictive fishing in wild fisheries; and to innovate and increase capabilities for tracking marine life around fixed subsea structures. Project participants hail from various sectors, including fisheries, aquaculture, energy, shipping, and ocean technology.

“This will not only enable ocean growth that is sustainable, but also disrupt competition on a global scale, position Canada as a leader, and help grow the economy and create new jobs,” Canada’s Ocean Supercluster explained in its press release.

“The Ocean Aware project is a game-changing project that demonstrates the transformational opportunities we have in ocean innovation when we bring partners from across ocean sectors together. This will create significant benefits for Canadians now and for generations to come. To bring this to fruition while we continue to see the impacts of a global pandemic only adds to its significance,” Canada’s Ocean Supercluster CEO Kendra MacDonald added.

Innovasea, along with Emera, Nova Scotia Power, Ocean Choice International, Irving Shipbuilding, Dartmouth Ocean Technologies, and Xeos Technologies will lead the Ocean Aware project, with the Ocean Tracking Network, Dalhousie University, Fisheries Marine Institute of Memorial University, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and others providing additional support.

Canada’s Ocean Supercluster will provide CAD 13.74 million (USD 10.2 million, EUR 8.7 million) of the funding for the new project, with the remaining CAD 15.7 million (USD 11.7 million, EUR 10 million) coming courtesy of industry partners.

Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry Navdeep Bains said the project helps put the country, which has the longest coastline, on the cutting-edge of global ocean innovation.

“As the country with the longest coastline, the Ocean Supercluster is helping Canada capitalize on our natural advantages, establishing itself as a hotbed for innovation and collaboration. The Ocean Aware project is a great example of the supercluster’s ability to bring together a variety of industry partners to develop new aquaculture technology and further support sustainable fishing practices,” Bains said.  

Ocean Aware is the second project from Canada’s Ocean Supercluster in the innovation arena. However, the idea behind it has been marinating since one of the collaboration’s initial meetings of the minds, according to Innovasea President Mark Jollymore.

“This specific project really had its genesis quite early on,” Jollymore told SeafoodSource. “From a very early sharing of ideas and concepts grew an interest in the wild fishery, aquaculture, and marine renewable energy sectors about understanding the movement and health of fish. And from there, we built the project around those three pillars.”

“This is a big day for Canada, and Innovasea is proud to be leading this consortium in tackling this important challenge,” Jollymore noted in a press release. “When this project is complete, we will have given three key maritime industries the technology, tools, understanding, and insight they need to operate in a more ecologically sustainable manner. Ultimately, the impact of the Ocean Aware project is going to be felt far beyond Canada and the Atlantic provinces; it will serve as a blueprint for the rest of the world.”

Ocean Choice CEO Martin Sullivan said his company is looking forward to serving as a partner on the Ocean Aware project and getting one step closer to a predictive fishing ideal.

“We are pleased to be a partner in the Ocean Aware Project; and to be working with global industry leaders in innovation and technology from Atlantic Canada and with the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University to build new spatial stock assessment models to support sustainable fisheries,” Sullivan said. “It is extremely important to Ocean Choice that we invest in finding new innovative solutions for smarter fishing. Projects such as this will allow us to better understand species distribution and movement between stock boundaries that will ultimately lead to more predictive fishing models where we can optimize performance within a sustainability framework.”

“Hopefully, this will lead to more predictive fishing,” he later told media. “We have a huge database of where we fish, when we fish, how much we catch, and if we can combine that with this new information to track where fish go and their behavior and incorporate it into stock assessment models, it can help us manage the resources better as well.”

Aquaculture operators – and not just those from Canada – are also expected to benefit significantly from the advances made via Ocean Aware in the coming years, Jollymore said.

“What we’re going to do in this project is seek to build a capability where we can gain a deeper understanding of fish health and fish physiology, as well as expand our existing capability in environmental monitoring,” Jollymore said. “We believe the completion of this project will have a significant impact on how farmers will manage their farms by knowing things like the growth rate and the general health of their fish in the pens. We’re seeing a significant impact here in the operation of aquaculture farms, not just in Canada, but around the world.”

Mark Sidebottom, Nova Scotia Power’s chief operating officer, said the Ocean Aware project represents a milestone in collaboration between Canada's fisheries and the nation's power and energy sectors.

“Providing safe, reliable, and affordable power to our customers while keeping our environmental commitments at the forefront is paramount in everything we do,” Sidebottom said. “The opportunity to work with like-minded partners to develop and test this leading-edge technology will assist us in better tracking and understanding the fish health and movement in our operating environment.”

Halifax Shipyard President Kevin McCoy said the new ties made through the project will benefit all maritime industries in the country.

“Halifax Shipyard is home to 2,000 proud shipbuilders and has invested CAD 3.1 billion [USD 2.32 billion, EUR 1.97 billion] in more than 275 businesses and organizations across Canada as part of the National Shipbuilding Strategy. We are 100 percent focused on Canada’s Ocean Future – from coast to coast to coast. This means the building the best next generation of ships for those who serve to safeguard our shores. It also means investing in Canada’s marine and ocean potential through innovation, research and conservation,” McCoy said. “Ocean Aware – the project we are announcing today - is a collaboration that will deliver on these [three] priorities and we are proud to be a part of it with [seven] great partners. The National Shipbuilding Strategy is about a lasting legacy of ocean and marine progress that continues to drive jobs, boost communities, preserve the environment, and foster innovation and discovery. Our hope that through this investment, scientists can identify why so many Atlantic salmon are not returning home from the ocean.”

From the technology side, Ocean Aware collaborators such as Xeos Technologies and Dartmouth Ocean Technologies have expressed enthusiasm for the scale and reach of the project.

"As one of the smaller partners in the Ocean Aware Project, we are excited about the opportunity to leverage the market reach of this formidable partnership as we embark on a potentially transformative technology development initiative. This is an incredible opportunity that will help launch Xeos on a new path," Xeos Technologies Vice President Geoff MacIntyre said.

According to Dartmouth Ocean Technologies President Arnold Furlong, his team is “very excited to be part of such a significant project, and are pleased to be funded to develop, produce, and deliver our microfluidic Lab-On-Chip (LOC) technologies in concert with the Ocean Aware partners. This project will lead to a need to increase our technical staffing levels.”

Jollymore said the project expects to roll out new technologies by 2021 and 2022.

“Because we don’t have an off-the-shelf solution ready to go today – this is about development of new products and solutions – it’s going to take us a little while to come up with those solutions and then get ready to deploy them,” he said. “But I suspect that by the time we get into 2021 and 2022, it’ll be ready to go. The start date of things is a little bit at the mercy of how we do in the technical development.”

In addition to its Ocean Aware project, Canada’s Ocean Supercluster is also behind the Ocean Startup Project, a pan-Atlantic collaboration responsible for the Ocean Startup Challenge, a competition aimed at supporting innovators in developing and implementing new technologies to solve large ocean problems. Six Atlantic Canadian organizations are behind the Ocean Startup Project: Innovacorp, NBIF FINB, BioAlliance, Springboard, Creative Destruction Lab Atlantic, and Genesis.

Applications for the Ocean Startup Challenge are being accepted until 14 August. There is a bounty of rewards up for grabs for companies participating in the challenge, the Ocean Startup Project said, including one of up to 10 prizes of CAD 25,000 (USD 18,643, EUR 16,114) to prototype or develop their solution (and up to another CAD 200,000 [USD 149,147, EUR 128,919] later, if they are selected as winners for phase two of the challenge.

Photo courtesy of Innovasea

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