Earlier this month, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the winners of the BlueTech Tech and Innovation Grant program, a program managed by the Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech). The program was launched with the support of the Commonwealth’s Seaport Economic Council, which partnered with MassTech on the new grant program. The two new grants, totaling $337,714, were awarded to the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance and Tufts University, and will advance innovation and drive economic growth in the Massachusetts “Blue Economy.”

The two projects employ innovative technologies to improve on a legacy sector for the Commonwealth, commercial fishing, and a sector that has the potential to grow in the state, aquaculture, namely kelp farming. The projects harness cutting-edge tools including advanced sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance production and improve operations.

“Supporting innovative projects in these sustainable industries will help drive increased economic growth in our coastal communities,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Our support for these grantees will allow them to scale their projects and have a greater impact on the fishermen and farmers they support.”

“Forward-looking thinking is a key part of the work of the Seaport Economic Council,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Chair of the Seaport Economic Council. “Whether investments in innovative technologies, support for coastal infrastructure or harbor dredging, our focus is on improving lives over the next 10, 15, or 20 years. These awards will bring increased sustainability and economic security to these sectors, helping ensure a bright future.”

Launched in March 2021, the program received applications until late May, seeking projects that proposed business or technology solutions focused on commercial fishing, aquaculture, maritime monitoring or security, shipping, marine biotechnology, offshore renewable energy, and more. The two projects were selected for their ability to improve the sustainability and profitability of the Commonwealth’s Marine Economy.

“IoT in the Sea: Making fishing gear smart to boost the Massachusetts coastal economy”
Grantee: Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance
Amount: $183,914
Timeline: 9 months
The project aims to increase the efficiency of Massachusetts-based commercial fishing, improve sustainability and profitability for the industry and support Blue Economy IoT development. The CCCFA proposes to accomplish this goal by outfitting 12 Massachusetts-based commercial fishing vessels with up to 24 smart water temperature sensors to be deployed on nets and traps and 16 dissolved oxygen sensors to be deployed on traps. These sensors will significantly increase the number of near real-time observations of bottom water conditions in Massachusetts, helping improve forecasts that will enable more efficient operations and provide critical information needed to better understand the changing ocean conditions in Massachusetts waters to support the blue economy.

“SeaSpectral: Advancing Monitoring and Inspection Systems for Sustainable Offshore Aquaculture”
Grantee: Tufts University
Amount: $153,800
Timeline: 12 months
The project will develop SeaSpectral, a novel monitoring and inspection system that combines Underwater Hyperspectral Imaging (UHI) and Underwater Red Green Blue (RGB) Imaging with AI techniques. The goal is to help aquaculture farmers improve crop quality and yield, reduce operation and maintenance costs, limit adverse effects on the marine ecosystem, and improve sustainability by providing full-coverage inspection and monitoring.

“I want to congratulate both grant recipients for their efforts to integrate cutting-edge technology into everyday use for commercial fishing and aquaculture,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy.  “Our Blue Economy continues to expand and thanks to the Seaport Economic Council and MassTech’s work to launch this grant program, we can continue to unlock this sector’s economic potential by embracing new and innovative ways to further our support for the Commonwealth’s maritime industries.”

“We are so grateful for the Blue Tech grant, which will expand fishermen participation and bring advanced technology into the eMOLT Program, which has been growing for the last 20 years. eMOLT oceanographic sensors provide fishermen with real-time data to improve their fishing decisions and also provide scientists with temperature data that is critical to improve our understanding of the ocean,” said Melissa Sanderson, COO, Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. “This collaborative project could not happen without strong partners: NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, Lowell Instruments, Ocean Data Network, Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, and the participating fishermen.”

“The Commonwealth’s continued support of groundbreaking technologies helps innovators like Professor Karen Panetta of Tufts University’s School of Engineering to advance research that has a positive impact on people’s lives, the environment, and local and global businesses,” said Tufts University President Anthony P. Monaco. “We are grateful for the Baker administration’s backing of SeaSpectral and its commitment to promoting the state’s blue economy.”

The new program follows the Seaport Economic Council Grand Challenge in 2018, also managed by the Innovation Institute at the MassTech Collaborative, which focused on bringing the ”Internet of Things” or IoT to maritime projects, awarding $450,000 to three grantees. The programs builds off MassTech Collaborative’s support for the tech and innovation economy statewide, a focus which has included investments in critical Blue Economy infrastructure, including marine robotics R&D facilities at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Falmouth.

“Our partnership with the Seaport Economic Council is a beneficial one, as our coastal communities are engines of innovation, as they’ve had to stay at the cutting-edge for centuries, pushing for new designs in fishing gear, in boat design, or to find ways to manage the ocean’s impacts,” said Carolyn Kirk, Executive Director of the MassTech Collaborative, and the former mayor of Gloucester, Mass. “These communities are not just incorporating cutting-edge tools into their projects, but are also home to world-class R&D centers, tech innovators, and entrepreneurs that are creating these tools. It’s a major reason why our Blue Economy sector is world-class.”

“Plymouth and Barnstable County are hubs for Massachusetts’ marine economy, and it is through innovation and technology that local businesses are going to remain competitive in a global market. BlueTech’s grant program funds partnerships that facilitate the application of the latest technologies to address modern challenges in the maritime sector. We are positioned to foster these partnerships, through the unique congregation of world-class scientific research centers like the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and a host of local businesses that are energized and ready to apply the latest innovations in marine data collecting, aquaculture development, and commercial fishing. Together, the partnerships enabled through these grants will grow our economy, create new jobs, and better position Massachusetts businesses to succeed,” said State Senator Susan L. Moran.

“Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket comprise over 50 percent of the Commonwealth’s coastline and are home to renowned research organizations, state of the art marine technology, and a resilient fleet of local fishermen,” said State Senator Julian Cyr. “However, the region has become profoundly unaffordable over the last two decades as housing prices have skyrocketed and wages haven’t kept up. Luckily, our ocean has the ability to offer and sustain year-round livelihoods for many families. The BlueTech Tech and Innovation Grant Program is valuable to areas like the Cape and Islands as it supports and pushes for growth in our maritime sector. Congratulations to this year’s grant recipients and thank you for your essential work to support our Blue Economy!”

“The Cape and Islands is home to the state’s blue economy. Ensuring that the fishing industry is at the forefront of emerging technology is critical if we hope to adapt to a marine environment that is quickly shifting due to climate change,” said Representative Dylan Fernandes. “By providing funding for these projects and leveraging community partnerships, MassTech’s grant program will ensure our blue economy is well positioned to address challenges.”