The Changing Tide

By: Aaron Stevenson, CEO, Ashored Inc.

It is an exciting time to be in ocean technology in Canada and particularly in Blue Tech, which I describe as the intersection of marine sciences, technology, and industry.  It is born out of the growing body of knowledge that looks at the big picture in studying the ways, means, and the broad impacts of our presence and activities upon the oceans. It is developing new technologies and, in some cases, combining that with old technology and materials to harness advances for the benefit of industries, while also minimizing the overall impact for the benefit of ocean ecosystems.

When it comes to the fishing industry, where Ashored is focused, the negative impacts are in the news frequently and carry such striking statistics as: “commercial fishing industry contributes 640,000 tons of the nearly 8 million tons of plastics that enters our oceans each year” and “an estimated 140,000 marine animals die annually as a result of entanglement in fishing gear”. Even without doing a deep dive into microplastics and chemical additive leaching, we can very quickly conclude that this will indeed have a negative impact on ocean life. What is less understood, however, is the business case for the fisheries to solve the problems of Abandoned, Lost, and otherwise Discarded Fishing Gear (ALDFG) and other ecological challenges.

In fixed gear fisheries such as lobster and crab, for example, one of the consequences of ALDFG is a scenario known as “Ghost Fishing” where marine life caught in lost traps die and become bait for others in a continuing cycle.  In terms of the economic loss to commercial fisheries, some studies have estimated the loss due to the artificial competition created from these untended fishing traps is equivalent to 4.5% of the average annual harvest.

From an industry perspective, perhaps the most compelling case for Blue Technology comes from end consumers. Today, people want to know where their food comes from, how it was harvested; they want to know that their food is not only healthy and safe, but that it is harvested or produced in a manner that is also healthy and safe for the environment. Taglines on menus describing food or ingredients as “whale-safe”, “sustainably sourced”, and “wild caught” all convey a sense of higher value and environmental responsibility. What is perhaps even more telling are the policy shifts at the government levels around the world over the last decade that are now resulting in regulatory changes and funding in support of these green and blue initiatives. A prime example of this is the recent announcement from Canada’s federal government regarding whale safe technology. Not only will whale safe technology be required in the fixed gear fisheries starting in 2023, but they are also investing $20 million through a whale safe gear fund to support the adoption of this technology ahead of the 2023 fishing seasons.

As a young company and Canada’s only Rope-on-Command gear manufacturer, this is very welcome news. It puts Canada at the forefront of this global shift to a blue economy and creates opportunities right here at home for growth, innovation, and export as other countries look to follow Canada’s lead.

Personally, the one thing that makes the blue economy particularly attractive is that it is still more or less in its infancy, and it is underpinned by the notion that as we know better, we must do better. At Ashored, we started with the idea that we wanted to tackle a problem that was locally felt and globally significant. We are doing that – and making a difference in the process; but for would-be entrepreneurs looking to make their mark, the global shift to a blue economy is creating a world of new opportunities across a wide range of industry sectors and fields of study that will offer many more globally significant challenges for years and decades yet to come.

Aaron Stevenson
CEO, Ashored Inc.