Alaska stands to gain by boosting its blue economy

The original story was published by the Alaska Journal of Commerce and Alaska Dispatch News

by S. Bradley Moran and Joel Cladouhos

Alaska’s blue economy leadership potential is tremendous. We maintain more than half the nation’s coastline and a third of the U.S. exclusive economic zone with access to vast natural resources. The blue economy vision is that by 2040 Alaska would grow by 50,000 jobs and $3 billion in wages, approximately equal to the oil and gas industry today.

Alaska’s blue economy includes existing traditional sectors such as fisheries, coastal tourism and oil and gas, as well as additional “new” blue economy sectors such as ocean technology, renewable energy and marine biotechnology.

The application and commercialization of new technologies and innovation to fisheries and marine science and engineering—referred to as the new blue economy—is one of the fastest growing sectors of the global blue economy.  This maritime economic sector is currently valued globally at $1.5 trillion (measured as marine-based industrial contribution to economic output and employment) and predicted to expand to $3 trillion by 2030. Now is the time for Alaska to take a forward look beyond its traditional maritime economic sectors. Advancing the new blue economy is an opportunity for Alaska to diversify its economy, strengthen partnerships, create jobs and stimulate investment.

A goal for Alaska in expanding beyond a primarily resource extraction–based maritime economy is to include more sustainable, value-added approaches that bring additional revenue and jobs to the state. This is a path being developed nationally, in California, Maine, Rhode Island and Washington, and internationally in Canada, Iceland and several European countries. Key to advancing Alaska’s blue economy is strengthening collaboration, including with our public, Alaska Native and private entities. The goal should be to foster the development of new opportunities, investment and job creation.

As a step in this direction, the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences has partnered with the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative to help advance discussion and coordination to develop and expand Alaska’s blue economy.

Through its Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center, the college is actively working on commercializing new pet treats made from pollock skins as well as working with Blue Evolution to help grow Alaska’s commercial seaweed farming industry. Over the past several years the college has worked with Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery to monitor ocean acidification risks to Alaskan shellfish harvests. The college is in the early stages of discussion with a variety of stakeholders to build on existing strengths in ocean observing by potentially establishing a second National Data Buoy Center. Together with the Alaska Ocean Observing System and ocean cluster initiative, we are advancing the discussion to address the growing need for increased infrastructure to strengthen Alaska’s ports and national/Arctic maritime security needs.

The Ocean Technology Innovation Sprint is just one of the innovative strategies to help advance Alaska’s blue economy being led by the initiative and the University of Alaska Anchorage Global Entrepreneur in Residence.  This involves a 5-day “sprint” process that engages designers, developers, engineers, marketers, and startup enthusiasts. The goal of the sprint is to provide a forum to share ideas and advance innovation with the sustainable blue economy.

ship's wake

A blue day on the Beaufort Sea in September 2017. Photo by Diana Campbell.

These are just a few examples of collaboration between the college and the ocean cluster initiative that align with Alaska’s blue economy. Alaska’s economic crisis requires us to think broadly and it is time to leverage our vast ocean resources to become a leader in the new blue economy where highly trained knowledge workers drive innovation, world‐class researchers are captivated, and an ecosystem of entrepreneurship forms around the foundation of a blue economy creating a sustainable future for generations of Alaskans.

This week (Sept. 18–21) Alaska will host OCEANS ’17 at the Dena’ina Convention Center in Anchorage. OCEANS ’17 is an international conference sponsored by cutting-edge ocean technology-based organizations and businesses. On Sept. 21, the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative and UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences will convene a special panel, “Building Alaska’s Blue Economy,” at this conference.  Discussion will focus on opportunities and challenges in the ocean technology sector, include strategies to improve coordination and partnering, ocean observations and big data, maritime and port security, and stimulate new entrepreneurial investment.

The panel is free and open to the public.  We invite you to join this discussion and bring your ideas to help advance the next steps with this initiative and broaden the scope of Alaska’s maritime economy.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Bradley Moran, sbmoran@alaska.edu, 907-474-7210

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