Fish farming, ocean monitoring seen as key to regional economy

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
3 April 2007, at 1:00am

BRISTOL, R.I. - The New England region should increase fish farming and develop a system to monitor ocean conditions to ensure a healthy and growing marine economy, scientists, government officials and business people said yesterday.

Speakers at a conference on the future of the region's marine economy said it was crucial for businesses and government to invest in research to develop those areas because the region's success is so closely tied to the ocean. The conference was sponsored by Roger Williams University and the regional business group The New England Council.

A potential anchor for New England's future marine economy is the development of ocean monitoring systems that would allow scientists and others to track the ocean climate, said Hauke Lite-Powell, a research specialist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

Two federal agencies are launching programs to monitor the oceans, said James Luyten, Woods Hole's acting president and director. The National Science Foundation plans to invest in a system of coastal, regional and global networks of observatories, named ORION, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans IOOS, or an Integrated and Sustained Ocean Observing System, to provide information on the state of the oceans.

Woods Hole and other institutions are bidding to build the systems, and decisions are expected within several months, Luyten said. Once the money is awarded, he said, the systems could be up and running in a few years.

The information could be used by a broad range of interests: a shipping firm trying to decide the best time to send a ship out of port, a search-and-rescue operation or in the nation's defense.

Lite-Powell said a monitoring system could contribute $10 million to $20 million per year to the region's economy in the short term for the development and installation of the technology. Down the road, it could contribute $150 million annually, including increases in the technology sector and direct benefits to those who use the system, such as the firm that can better time its shipments.

"Ultimately, we have to have a system which is comparable to what we have for the weather," Layton said during a break in the conference.

He said building a regional system could include doing things like adding technology to existing buoys off the coast of New England and also sending out undersea robots along a set path to patrol conditions. The robots could also be self-directed. For example, he said, if they detect something unusual in the water, they could change their path to go find the source.