Tech meets fish: Port of New Bedford launches ‘Ocean Cluster’

Updated Sep 21, 2017 at 6:32 PM

That kind of innovation is what’s behind a new effort by New Bedford Harbor Development Commission to serve as a matchmaker for technology companies and the fishing industry. Following a model developed in Iceland, the commission has formed the New Bedford Ocean Cluster, which will foster entrepreneurship in ocean products.

Mayor Jon Mitchell, who chairs the commission, signed a memorandum of understanding Thursday with Thor Sigfusson, founder and chairman of the Iceland Ocean Cluster, to work together. The agreement officially makes New Bedford part of a loosely organized global network of ocean clusters. No money will change hands; it’s about an exchange of ideas, Sigfusson said.

New Bedford’s is the third such effort worldwide, following Iceland and Maine. Others are forming in Alaska and Seattle.

Mitchell said New Bedford wants to be associated with all things fishing — not just fish and fish processing, but pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and other products.

“This is really, for us in New Bedford, a way of taking the next step,” he told supporters gathered at the New Bedford Whaling Museum for a signing ceremony. “Networks matter. Idea exchanges matter. And that’s what this is about.”

The Iceland Ocean Cluster operates a business incubator with more than 60 businesses.

“We want to be a spin-off factory,” Sigfusson said.

From 1981 to 2011, Iceland doubled its cod export revenue to $680 million, even though the catch fell 60 percent, he said. It accomplished that by diversifying the products made from cod.

 In 1981, 75 percent of Iceland’s cod revenue came from fillets and whole fish, and 25 percent from other products, he said. By 2011, the market had reversed, with 77 percent of revenue coming from other products — things like dietary supplements and fish-skin leather.

New Bedford-based technology company IoT ImpactLABS is working with the Harbor Development Commission on the project, organized by the commission’s executive director and port director, Edward Anthes-Washburn. The port has piloted new technologies through its own facilities and by connecting ImpactLABS entrepreneurs with existing port users and businesses, Anthes-Washburn said.

In an interview after the signing, Sigfusson said he was impressed with the new UMass Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology facility. It would be a great place to host startups and have students working on ocean-related entrepreneurial projects, he said.

Follow Jennette Barnes on Twitter @jbarnesnews.

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