Eastern Canada’s picturesque Atlantic region, comprising the four provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, are leaders when it comes to innovation in ocean and ‘blue’ technology.
Atlantic Canada enjoys some of the world’s richest fishing grounds, and commercial aquaculture – the breeding, raising and harvesting of fish and shellfish – is a big contributor to the local economy. The region is home to many innovative companies in the fishing and aquaculture industry. It also has a flourishing ocean and marine tech ecosystem, including marine engineering, ship building, oil and gas exploration, hydrodynamics, underwater technology and engineering, coastal and deep-sea shipping, protection of the marine environment and leisure and safety.
Virginie De Visscher, senior director of business development, economic sectors, at Destination Canada’s Business Events team, says: “The wealth of intellectual capital found in Canada’s ocean science community is as vast as our coastline.”
St John’s in Newfoundland and Labrador hosts the Ocean Sciences Centre at Memorial University (MUN), one of Canada’s biggest marine laboratories and a global leader in cold ocean bioscience. Kendra MacDonald, chief executive officer at Canada’s Ocean Supercluster (OSC), says: “In the Atlantic region, ocean innovation is part of the fabric of who we are, because of our geography, harsh ocean environment, and our history of making a living from ocean industries.”
OSC is an initiative that brings together industry, government and academia, and is co-investing up to C$300m ($227m) in new tech platforms used across ocean sciences. “Our start-up ecosystem offers incredible support for entrepreneurs in the form of incubators and accelerators, as well as complementary programmes including ocean-focused initiatives and mentorship,” adds Ms MacDonald.
“The Atlantic region has significant support for companies from ideation to commercialisation to growing reach across global markets. This is an attractive place for ocean start-ups and investment in them, given the number of companies focused on innovative ocean solutions [that are] in turn garnering global attention.”
More than 300 companies are doing oceans sector business in Nova Scotia and there are more than 60 innovators in hi-tech ocean services and products. The ocean sector accounts for one-fifth of all R&D carried out by companies in the province. Including spin-offs, ocean-related industries generate about C$4.5bn, or 12.2%, of the province’s GDP.
Techs and start-ups
Halifax, Nova Scotia, is home to the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship, one of several eastern Canadian institutes dedicated to innovation in the ocean sciences and a hub for a number of successful new ocean start-ups.
The city’s Dalhousie University is host to Ocean Tracking Network (OTN); IBM’s DeepSense platform, which uses data-driven insights to leverage new ocean technologies; and Aquatron Laboratory, the largest aquatic research facility in eastern Canada. The Ocean Frontier Institute – which brings together international researchers and teams from MUN, the University of Prince Edward Island and Dalhousie University – is also located there.
“Dalhousie University and MUN both have extremely strong ocean science research programmes,” says Frederick Whoriskey, executive director of OTN.
Halifax has hosted ocean-related conferences such as the World Ocean Council’s Sustainable Oceans Summit, and the International Conference on Underwater Networks & Systems. The city has also been chosen as the location for the IEEE Oceanic Society’s Oceans’ 24 Conference and it annually hosts the H20 (Home to Overseas Conference, Industry Showcase and Exhibition) Conference, which is emerging as Canada’s leading event for the ocean technology sector.
The city of Saint John, New Brunswick, is also an important centre for the ocean sector. The University of New Brunswick, Saint John Campus, offers Canada’s only bachelor of science in marine biology courses. It is also home to the Centre for Environmental and Molecular Algal Research.
The global headquarters of the world’s largest independent seafood company, Cooke, is also located in Saint John. The company has C$2bn in annual revenues, and is investing in research and innovation along the aquaculture supply chain. Cooke and a number of other companies based in the greater Saint John area – including T4G Limited, NB Power and Atlantic Towing – are taking part in Canada’s Ocean Supercluster initiative.
A leap in salmon farming
Today, Atlantic Canada’s salmon farming industry is one of the region’s biggest economic drivers and is also seeing extensive R&D. Susan Farquharson, executive director at the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association, says: “Salmon farming has transformed coastal, rural communities from areas of high unemployment to relative prosperity, and the potential exists to create more jobs and economic growth.
“Atlantic fish farmers are pioneers in the global salmon farming industry and are recognised international leaders. With world population growing along with the demand for healthy protein, the salmon farming industry has significant potential for sustainable growth,” she adds. For example, Sustainable Blue, a company based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, has developed a land-based, saltwater grow-out facility, enabling the production of farmed Atlantic salmon throughout the year.
The region is also home to a significant and increasingly innovative lobster industry. “Processing plants are investing in automation and robotics, new packaging, water quality management, lobster quality testing and shipping methods,” says Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada. “Harvesters are testing pop-up buoys to avoid lines in the water that entangle whales. They are testing new mechanisms that allow lost traps to be found.”
A place to meet
As eastern Canada enjoys a growing international reputation for ocean industries and innovation, experts in the field are flocking to its shores to attend top industry events. Halifax's other ocean-related conferences also include: the American Fisheries Society; the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals; Godae Oceanview’s Ocean Forecasting Symposium; the International Institute of Fisheries & Trade; Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation; and IEEE/MTS Oceans 2024.
Meanwhile, the World Aquaculture Society Conference will take place in St John’s in 2020 and is expected to draw 2000 guests from more than 100 countries. The city also hosts Innovate Canada, an event organised by Business Events Canada which showcases the country’s strengths in ocean sciences to C-suite members.