Canada’s oceans bring to mind the epic adventures of the fishing industry recounted in dozens of novels, films and TV shows. Bordered by three oceans (Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic), the country has the world’s longest coastline and the fourth largest ocean territory. 

Besides this, it boasts some 563 lakes and dozens of major rivers across the country, which together make up about one-fifth of the world’s surface freshwater. This endowment of natural aquatic resources has been the backbone of communities on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts for centuries.


A global leader

“Canada is an ocean nation whose economy, environment and social fabric are inextricably linked to the oceans and their resources,” according to the government’s Oceans Strategy, which was approved in 2002 as a direct result of the country's 1997 Ocean Act, the first comprehensive oceans management legislation in the world.

But Canada’s interests go well beyond aquaculture and fisheries, and the country has taken a global lead in developing ocean technologies and innovation. The government has established an ocean supercluster on the east coast to “become a leader in the knowledge-based ocean economy” and support a more sustainable use of ocean resources. Prime minister Justin Trudeau has also vowed to give protected status to 25% of the country’s oceans by 2025. Besides this, its multibillion-dollar National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) is breathing new life into several shipyards and their suppliers.

Smart ecosystems 

The OECD estimates that the value of the world’s ocean economy, or blue economy, will reach $3000bn by 2030. 

“Anchored by investment in maritime and coastal tourism, resource exploration, shipbuilding and port activities, this blue economy will also be built through innovative ocean data analytics, ecosystem-based fisheries management, aquaculture and ocean renewable-energy systems,” Dr Kate Moran, CEO of Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), wrote in 2016.

“Building a smarter ocean creates sustainable ecosystems, and Canada is already exhibiting leadership in ocean observation, bringing government, industry, conservation and recreational interests together for informed policy decisions about our coastal resources. But in order to advance a truly innovative national agenda, we must continue to invest,” she added. 

The ONC is an initiative by the University of Victoria in British Columbia that has spearheaded the development of 'smart oceans' technologies such as the underwater observation networks Neptune and Venus, earthquake early-warning systems and, more recently, carbon-negative solutions in marine environment (see article on British Columbia, page 50)

A coordinated approach

Meanwhile over in Atlantic Canada, the government established the Ocean Supercluster (OSC) as one of the five new superclusters it launched in 2018. According to its website, the OSC aims to become “the first cross-sectorial initiative of its kind, which includes the shared vision of leaders in fisheries, aquaculture, offshore resources, shipping, defence, marine renewables and ocean tech. By facilitating the growth of these industries through an interconnected cluster, we’re positioning Canada to be the leader in sustainable ocean innovation.” (See article on Atlantic Ocean, page 52.)

Other initiatives, such as the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, nurture and grow start-ups and SMEs that focus on ocean technologies. At the same time, the Ocean Technology Alliance Canada is launching a database that brings together all the stakeholders of the industry to foster collaboration at home and showcase the sector abroad.

“I’ve been in this industry for 20 years, and one thing that strikes me is that there is a lot of effort to organise the industry,” says Chris Sundstrom, co-founder of Seamor Marine, a producer of remotely operated vehicles for underwater use. “For many years, the industry has been very much an individual effort; there was no coordination. Over the past four or five years, companies really started thinking of working together. It is both a bottom-up and a top-down effort, and that combination is proving very effective.” 

NSS developments

Canada is also developing its ambitious, 30-year NSS to renew the fleet of defence ships, the coast guard and those used in other federal departments. Launched in 2010, the NSS is designed to provide long-term, stable business opportunities to Canadian shipyards.

The shipyard of Irving, Halifax, won the contract for the supply of combat vessels worth estimated C$60bn ($45.2bn), while Seaspan in Vancouver, British Columbia, won the supply for non-combat vessels worth another C$8bn.

As part of the NSS, the building of smaller vessels will be contracted to other shipyards, while the commissioning of six ice-breakers has yet to be decided, although industry sources and media widely expect the contract to go to the Davie shipyard in Quebec (see article on Quebec, page 54).

The programme puts much emphasis also on the development of a shipbuilding cluster across the country by linking up major contractors such as Irving and Seaspan with local suppliers, communities and research institutions.

Showcasing Canada

Canada’s push into the ocean industry as a whole is also stirring the interest of services providers, including in the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions sphere, which are working to showcase the country’s excellence in the oceans industry to possible foreign partners and investors. 

“We want to show them what’s going on in the industry in Canada in the hope they will bring their event, as well as consider trade and investment opportunities,” says Virginie De Visscher, senior director for business development of Business Events Canada.

These new developments are building momentum for industry events to take place across the country as a way to bring together local stakeholders and connect them with international peers, clients and investors. “Today we’re steering the conversation toward hosting business events in destinations that align with an organisation’s mission,” says Ms De Visscher.

“In the case of ocean sciences, it makes sense to host in locations such as St John’s, Halifax, Quebec City and Victoria, among others. Not only is there a robust ocean tech and ocean sciences ecosystem in each, but when organisations meet here, they can access our industry and thought leaders to enrich their programme content, augment their speaker’s series, grow their membership and more. We refer to this as ‘meeting with purpose’ in Canada."

Business Events Canada will host Innovate Canada 2020 in St John’s, Newfoundland, between August 31 and September 3. The event, one of many happening throughout the year which will bring foreign ocean industry experts and decision makers to Canada, will focus on the country’s ocean science sectors and will be held in conjunction with the World Aquaculture Society Conference.