Oceans of Opportunity

Oceans of Opportunity

BREATH-TAKING. ROMANTIC. DESTRUCTIVE. Peaceful. Scary. Engaging. Frigid. Warm. Inspiring. Perplexing.

Despite our close association with the ocean in Atlantic Canada, we know little of its potential and have even less appreciation of the extent to which other nations have learned how to cultivate a relationship with the oceans adjacent to their shores.

The share of the global economy attributable to the world’s oceans is 2.5 per cent. You’d expect that share would be much larger for Canada—after all, we have the largest coastline in the world and are unique in enjoying direct access to three oceans. Unfortunately, that assumption is wrong: in Canada, ocean-related industry accounts for a paltry one per cent of our economy (40 per cent of the global average). In Norway, a country one-seventh the size of Canada, the ocean sector is worth some $132 billion. That is larger than our oil sands, automotive and aerospace industries combined.

We are also guilty of thinking that much of our ocean-related activity is world class. Again, unfortunately, that is wrong. Whether it is the wild fisheries or aquaculture or offshore oil, we import all the important innovative technologies we use and export very little, other than the product. That needs to change.

Where, you might ask, is the problem? It is certainly not the commitment to ocean-related R&D. In fact, as a region, the number of PhDs working in this sector is the second highest in the world. Is the quality of their output suspect? I doubt that’s the case. I believe the issue is the lack of communication between the various participants or communities within Canada’s ocean economy. The folks at work in offshore oil would have very little awareness of what research might be happening in the fisheries space, and vice versa. And how engaged are commercial interests in what’s happening at MUN, or Dal or Fisheries and Oceans or inside the Navy? And to what extent are those organizations communicating among themselves? Therein lies the problem. There is little collaboration and little appreciation of the extent of what is happening within each of these silos by the other silos. More than anything, the contrast between our behavior in this respect and what exists in Norway stands out as the big differentiator.

Canada’s Ocean Supercluster (a recently announced private-public partnership) seeks to be the catalyst that will bring about a fundamental change in how ocean-related industries work together. A change in which some $300 million-plus worth of R&D is undertaken on a collaborative basis, among and between commercial sectors involving large and small businesses and in co-operation and engagement with and by the institutional community. The focus will be on undertaking and commercializing research for those opportunities in which Atlantic Canada has the opportunity to be a global leader. And the opportunities must be large.

Those of us at work in the Supercluster have a keen desire, indeed a responsibility, to make known to the community at large what a tremendous growth engine exists for this region should we get this right. We also have to educate the community as to the scale and breadth of the ocean economy. It includes exploiting and extracting, in an environmentally responsible way, those vast oil deposits offshore which require innovative technologies to de-risk the harsh environmental and deep water challenges, to better understanding ocean bottom conditions, to identifying sensitive areas which might require particularly careful management and monitoring, through to more efficient fish or shellfish harvesting technologies, to tackling the challenges associated with moving aquaculture operations further offshore so as to expand the scope of available growth sites, to dealing with the visual and offal contamination associated with inshore sites, to defining new diets for cultured fish, to autonomous vessels, to deep sea mining, through to obscure but very real macro visions of the digital ocean and the internet of the ocean.

There is a great but not well-known song called I hope you dance. It starts with “I hope you never lose your sense of wonder” and goes on to “I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean”. Amen.

John Risley
About John Risley

John Risley, president of Clearwater Fine Foods Inc., regularly engages in policy debate as a member of the World Presidents' Organization, the Chief Executives Organization and as a director on the Board of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

1 Comment to “Oceans of Opportunity”

  1. Mr. Risley provides a realistic assessment of the sad under-appreciation in Canada of the potential for technology based economic activity from the oceans. I would strongly endorse the description of lost opportunity, particularly in comparison to jurisdictions such as Norway. I would also endorse the basic premise of the Ocean Supercluster – that industry needs to drive R&D if it is to have any real benefits.

    My strong objection is to his identification of the root problem as lack of communication. There is no lack of communication, on any subject, in Atlantic Canada. If we have any superlative expertise in the region, it is the field of meetings, conferences, symposia, workshops, round tables, studies, consultant reports and kitchen parties. We can communicate any problem into a coma.

    Our problem is lack of action.

    Local industry needs to step up. If I may cut close to the bone, fish companies need to do more than buy equipment in Europe and scoop the resource out of our oceanic back yard until it is all gone to the greater glory of shareholder value. This same applies to the Navy the Coast Guard, Irving Shipbuilding, Marine Atlantic, the offshore industry, Oceanex and all those other primary actors in the ocean economy. If we want regional sustainability there needs to be enduring economic activity. Primary industries support secondary industries that support tertiary industries. Lower tier technology industries can be here or somewhere else. Norway figured this out long ago. Having technology producers here means that the primary actors have to be proactive in figuring out what might be innovative in their own operations and then maybe root around to see if a local collection of boffins and entrepreneurs might be able to help. This is generally not be the cheapest way forward but it is a form of corporate social responsibility – a concept recently articulated in the heart of cutthroat corporate America. Surely if they can think such things, we might consider it. We have a lot of bad history to overcome.

    Clearwater has done some innovative R&D on home turf so I think Mr. Risley knows the way forward. For the sake of all the young ocean engineering graduates I helped churn out over the past decade, don’t squander the Ocean Supercluster money on more talk. Do stuff, build things, innovate – in Atlantic Canada.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.