Fishing, shipping and energy companies in Atlantic Canada are teaming up with the federal government to ramp up knowledge of the ocean and to devise and deploy new technologies to assess wild fish stocks and monitor the health of farmed fish.
Tuesday, Canada’s Ocean Supercluster (COS) announced the Ocean Aware Project for Atlantic Canada. It’s the largest block of funding announced to date by the government-funded organization.
It puts $29 million in play for the region, with $13.74 million coming from COS and $15.7 million from industry and academia.
The Ocean Aware project is led by Innovasea, a Boston-based company specializing in fish-tracking solutions.
The company has been operating out of Bedford, N.S., since 2013. Just last week Innovasea announced it was purchasing the 43,000 square foot building it had been leasing in that town.
Through the Ocean Aware project Innovasea will work with other marine-industry and tech companies in Atlantic Canada to develop and test new technology to provide more information on the ocean environment and marine life, applying the knowledge to both wild fisheries and aquaculture.
Others involved in the project include Emera, Nova Scotia Power, Ocean Choice International, Irving Shipbuilding, Dartmouth Ocean Technologies and Xeos Technologies, the Ocean Tracking Network at Dalhousie University, Memorial University's Fisheries and Marine Institute (MI) and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
One of the goals of this project, said Mark Jollymore, president of Innovasea, is to develop sensors to monitor changes in fish health in aquaculture.
“This includes effects from hypoxia, harmful algae blooms, and so on,” he told SaltWire.
“By having an early warning mechanism, farm operators can take appropriate action to mitigate or eliminate harm,” he said.
Ocean Choice International (OCI), a fishing and fish-processing company based in Newfoundland and Labrador, will play a key role in the development and use of the sensor technology.
Martin Sullivan, CEO for OCI, said his company will use the sensors developed by Innovasea to track species like yellowtail flounder and American plaice.
The new information gathered will be married to historical information on fish stocks, and the data already available through the fisheries research chair at the Marine Institute and DFO, to build a more detailed picture of the abundance, health and habits of wild fish.
Sullivan said this will enhance the work already being done by the fisheries research chair, a position that is also sponsored by OCI.
Knowing more about fish behaviours and migration patterns, will enable “smarter fishing” said Sullivan.
“Hopefully, this will lead to more predictive fishing."
He said OCI already has a large database of information about where they fish and how much they catch.
“If we can combine that with this new information, to track where fish go and incorporate it into stock assessment models, then it will help us manage the resource as well.”
The potential for better tracking of wild fish also has exciting potential for academia, said Tommi Linnansaari, who is the Atlantic salmon research chair at the University of New Brunswick.
He represents the group Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow, which is affiliated with the Oceans Supercluster through Irving Shipbuilding.
The technology that will be developed through the Ocean Aware project, he said, will also cater to the "discovery" sector — the research scientists — adding more information to their databases.
“Certainly some of the new tracking technologies will have very widespread applications in the science community. Universities across the world will benefit,” he said.
He pointed to Innovasea’s plan to develop technologies that could be used on mobile platforms — ships at sea.
One of the goals of the project, noted Martin Sullivan, is to develop commercially viable mobile acoustic tracking gear that will see acoustic receivers trawl-mounted on OCI's offshore fishing vessels.
They will also be mounted on other vessels, like Canadian Coast Guard ships and DFO survey vessels.
Linnansaari said the use of sensors on ships will "revolutionize the tracking of fish, whether it’s commercial species or species at risk.”
With mobile sensors he said, scientists could track and gather information on Atlantic salmon, whales, sharks, turtles — all kinds of marine species.
“Now all of a sudden the capabilities are unlimited. And there will certainly be a lot of markets for this kind of product in the discovery sector alone.”
With this funding announcement will come economic spin-offs, says Innovasea’s Mark Jollymore.
“There will be very direct spinoffs in terms of developing the tools and the technology, and building the various pieces of equipment that need to be deployed to achieve the goals of Ocean Aware.
“A very large degree of all of that equipment will have direct spinoffs to the local economy,” he said, noting subcontracts will be involved in equipment builds.
The deployment of equipment is also very labour intensive, he added.
“And all of that is happening in Atlantic Canada.”
The funding announced Tuesday comes from the $153-million pot of money announced by Ottawa in 2018 for the Ocean Supercluster.
This is the second major funding announcement by the OSC.
Kendra MacDonald, CEO of the Oceans Supercluster, said over $100 million has been committed to projects to date, with about $50 million of that coming from the Supercluster. The other half comes from industry partners.
Expect more to come, she added.
“We have another 20 projects in contracting, which will be announced over the next few months.”
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