GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 8, 2013

Diverse interests tap into marine summit

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — GLOUCESTER — Research and innovation groups, business people and scientists, fishermen and government leaders gathered at Cruiseport Gloucester for the city’s second Maritime Summit Thursday, with each group pitching an idea and service and hoping to reel in some customers.

The second gathering, 15 months after the first summit, drew 130 people to hear presentations about the environment and the future of maritime economy, view exhibits of top-of the line robotics and new age technology, listen to panels of professionals speak about diversified fisheries and aquaculture, and network of course.

“Good content brings good people,” said Rich Weissman, who was at the summit representing Endicott College. Weissman said he came on behalf of the school to help increase its visibility in the city where it recently started up a satellite campus.

A few exhibit tables over Chris Casagrande, a co-founder of Sea Sciences, Inc., stood by his company’s latest model — an apparatus that, when towed behind boats, allows users to navigate along the ocean floor or closer to the surface, collecting samples, shooting videos or testing the water in a given area.

The founders, whose machinery was used to examine the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, came to the summit Thursday in search of some new customers.

“There’s always that hope,” Casagrande said. “The ones we pick normally are the ones our customers go to.”

While Casagrande said his group had not gotten any major bites at the summit, he did receive some offers of interest. Gloucester boat captains, for example, had offered deals for the company to borrow their vessels for testing. And, Casagrande spoke with a contractor who would make a good back up to their go-to company.

Another exhibit boasted robotic machines too, but with a much different purpose. The exhibit, hosted by Ocean Alliance and Olin College out of Needham, featured a table of robots, including one called the “snotbot” that, when perfected, will be used to collect snot samples from whales as the creatures surface and blow into the air.

The group had also hoped to capture some extra support for their “Sailbot” regatta, a race of boats electronically programmed and designed by college students. Gloucester and the Ocean Alliance, which is renovating and restoring the city’s historic paint factory, will host the big race in June.

“We are looking for sponsors,” said Olin professor Andrew Bennett. “We want to offer more to the student teams when they show up.”

Boston Harbor Cruises, the Boston-based boat tour company that expanded into the research and buoy repair field about five years ago, sent a research boat, equipped with satellite television and a galley kitchen along to the summit. Boats from this end of the company motor out and collect data buoys, measuring in at about 10 feet in diameter and 12 feet long, haul them aboard, and make adjustments, reset the buoys and change various components, according to Greg Jaegar, the director of Offshore Logistics through the Boston Harbor Cruises.

The Boston Harbor Cruises boat cast its lines onto the dock behind Cruiseport Thursday after having been in for some cleaning and basic work at Rose’s Marine next door. Jaegar said a day spent at the summit just made sense. Plus, the day acted as an opportunity to meet potential clients, like the Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS), which has a buoy plopped right outside of Gloucester, constantly reading the weather and water conditions.

“We’re trying to get in with NERACOOS, that’s why we’re here,” Jaegar said.

NERACOOS — whose executive director, J. Ru Morrison, delivered the keynote address — was pretty sought after at the summit, with many commending Morrison’s lunchtime speech. Fishermen, tour boat services and pleasure boaters often examine the NERACOOS buoy’s stats before a morning of work.

A Gloucester lobsterman who said he uses NERACOOS’s site to check the water temperatures, weather and wave heights about 4 a.m. on each work day found the company’s outreach specialist at the summit and that specialist, Tom Shyka, showed him a new program that tracks water temperature in comparison to season averages and seasonal highs and lows.

“This is why coming up to a meeting like this is really valuable to us,” Shyka said. “It brings fishermen, boat drivers, politicians — all those people are supposed to be our customers. It saves us from having to go individually to each of those people.”

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.