Alaska boasts over half of the nation’s coastline, nearly two-thirds of seafood catches and more ocean than any other region. But Alaska’s economic output accounts for only about four percent of the US ocean economy.
Building a bluer economy is the goal of the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, which aims to create a more diversified and resilient economy by getting more value from our oceans. It’s a good fit for Alaska’s 200 coastal communities –
“The primary motivation is that globally the oceans are being viewed as the last economic frontier and there is a big push to develop them. Our hope is that Alaska becomes a leader in this area and this blue economy and sustainable development of our ocean resources.”
Joel Cladouhos is Ocean Cluster director. The program began a year ago in partnership with the Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association.
It is modeled after a program used in Iceland since the 1970s which seeds an “economic ecosystem” of industry, academics, business and government to build a blue growth strategy.
“There is a need for technology to gather data, whether it’s mapping the ocean floor or collecting data to understand ocean acidification and problems in the environment that is changing. We see problems like ocean plastics and there are economic opportunities to solve that problem.”
Blue startups can run the maritime gamut from new seafood products to biofuels to fashion to renewable energy, vessel repair and more.
Cladouhos believes going blue can support 50,000 jobs and a $3 billion dollar payroll by the year 2040 making it as significant as the oil industry is today.
“Oil has provided incredible economic impact in AK and there is no doubt that we would not be where we are today without it. But we want the conversation to be around pipelines of innovation and entrepreneurship in the future. And that would drive economic benefit and job growth that is larger than the oil industry today.”
The Ocean Cluster has several programs to enhance the Blue Economy mindset among Alaskans.
Ocean Tuesdays are one hour weekly webinars on a wide range of topics. Two day Blue Storm workshops are customized to local areas. Another six week Google Ocean Technology team event is in the works. And a virtual Blue Pipeline Incubator advises ocean based startups.
The Cluster will use a nearly $400,000 federal grant to further its goals and do more outreach in Alaska.
“So if there is any interest from anyone I hope they will reach out and we can start to move forward to developing their ideas.”