The 400th anniversary of the founding of Gloucester is just three years away. Salem will turn 400 in 2026. Both grew through ties to the ocean, and were instrumental in the survival and success of both the Massachusetts colony and a young nation. Now, the cities and other communities across the region have the opportunity to once again chart a course for the future.

A new "blue economy" is emerging where technology meets the shoreline, and the region is well positioned to take advantage. Katherine Kahl, professor of sustainable fisheries and coastal resilience at the University of Massachusetts and director of the school's Gloucester Marine Station, describes the blue economy as "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs and ocean ecosystem health."

It may be easier to think of in terms of its related industries: fishing and aquaculture, marine construction, tourism and recreation, marine robotics and coastal resilience. Many of those sectors have been around for years, of course. It's only recently that they've been considered as part of something bigger.

There is already innovation happening in the "blue economy," Kahl told 150 business leaders at a North Shore Chamber of Commerce breakfast Wednesday. Marblehead's SeaTrac, for example, designs and develops remotely controlled boats that gather ocean data for the defense, energy and environmental sectors. Gloucester's LobsterNet places sensors in lobster pots to collect pH and temperature data. And for years, Neptune's Harvest, also based in Gloucester, has turned gurry -- fish guts, basically -- into organic fertilizer.

For the blue economy to truly take off, disparate entities must work together. That's the goal behind the North Shore Blue Economy Initiative, a 10-year project aimed at bringing businesses, educational institutions and government together. Gathering data is an important step. What is the economic impact of the region's marine-related sectors? Which are healthiest? Where is opportunity for growth? A report by UMass Dartmouth's Public Policy Center is due next month. 

After that will come training, not to mention state investment such as a $1 million grant to help build a bioengineering and training lab for the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute.

The initiative -- combining the efforts of government, business and academia -- is the perfect example of the cooperation needed to turn an already productive, if scattered, blue economy into a powerful engine for the region and the state.

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