Murkowski Leads Bill to Invest in Blue Economy, Spark Innovations in Coastal Communities

Bipartisan, bicameral legislation would support coastal communities by fostering collaboration between different industries

Anchorage, AK – U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Representatives María Elvira Salazar (R-FL-27) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Ocean Regional Opportunity and Innovation Act (Ocean ROI Act), legislation that would require the Secretary of Commerce to establish a federal strategy for investing in the nation’s ocean-based economy with “Ocean Innovation Clusters” (ocean clusters).

Senator Murkowski is a strong supporter of Ocean Clusters, including Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation’s Startup Accelerator, which serves as a hub for private, public, and academic stakeholders to collaborate on opportunities to promote and enhance the maritime industry and blue economy.

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME), Angus King (I-ME) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) are original cosponsors of the legislation.

For text of the bill, click here.

“A strong blue economy will require strong coordination and creativity, and that’s why I’m leading this effort to invest in our ocean clusters and take advantage of the opportunities for innovation and collaboration,” said Sen. Murkowski, co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus. “This effort doesn’t just focus on the untapped economic potential of our blue economy, but also ensures that collaboration is at the center of any conversation or effort to address the impacts of climate change on our coastal communities. By providing incentives and workspaces for Alaskans in maritime and maritime-adjacent industries, we can achieve real progress in strengthening the blue economy.”

“From protecting orcas from vessel noise, to transitioning to a carbon free future for our ports and maritime industry, Washington’s ocean cluster, called Maritime Blue, is working hard to solve complex challenges facing our economy. This bill would build on their success by creating a new grant program to fund ocean innovation clusters and grow Washington’s 30 billion dollar maritime economy,” said Sen. Cantwell.

“Miami’s beautiful coasts and pristine waters provide Florida with billions in tourism and commerce every year, and I am committed to preserving them for generations to come,” said Rep. Salazar. “I am proud to introduce legislation to promote Miami’s development and improve our environment through the sustainable use of our oceans. The blue economy and the opportunities it provides are growing, and the United States must keep pace with investments made by the global community. There is no better place to invest the best we have in research and technology than right here in South Florida.”

“Ocean clusters are at the center of innovation and entrepreneurship, and are key to building climate resilient, sustainable coastal economies. Now is the time for the federal government to invest in the Blue Economy so we can harness the great potential of waters across the country like the Gulf of Maine,” said Rep. Pingree, who is a member of the House Oceans Caucus. “Together, Senators Murkowski and Cantwell and Congresswoman Salazar and I represent some of the nation’s most pristine and valuable coastline; we understand the tremendous impact oceans have on our communities, our economy, and our daily lives. With our bicameral and bipartisan Ocean Regional Opportunity and Innovation Act, the U.S. can realize the full potential and value of our blue economy.”

“The funding authorized in this bipartisan legislation will support ocean innovation and development, creating new opportunities to build a sustainable future for our coastal communities across Maine and ensuring the vitality of our ocean industries,” said Sen. Collins.

“Oregon is a leader in seafood production and ocean innovation, and it’s important that coastal communities in my state and around the country have the resources needed to keep the environment and local economies thriving,” said Sen. Merkley. “Cluster initiatives—like the one here in Oregon—help coastal communities keep local seafood local, and support greater economic and environmental value with each catch while promoting strong human rights, job training, and more."

“As America’s leading seafood producer and home to more coastline than the Lower 48 states combined, our oceans are a vital part of our state’s culture and economy,” said Senator Sullivan. “Ocean cluster centers in Alaska—the brainchild of the local fishing groups in Alaska—will create coalitions of public and private stakeholders to promote and enhance our state’s status as the superpower of seafood. I appreciate Senator Murkowski’s work on this important legislation and look forward to working with my colleagues to quickly pass it,” said Sen. Sullivan.

“For generations, Maine’s ocean innovators have pioneered new, sustainable economic development along our shores,” said Sen. King. “The bipartisan Ocean Regional Opportunity and Innovation Act of 2023 would build on our long legacy of success and sustainability in fishing, aquaculture, and other maritime opportunities by backing efforts to bring together these fresh ideas that build on each other, for new opportunities across Maine’s iconic industries. I am grateful for my colleagues’ partnership on this important effort to promote and modernize Maine’s invaluable ocean economy.”

“The Ocean State is a leader in Blue Economy innovation,” said Sen. Whitehouse.  “Our bipartisan legislation will support the ocean economy’s continued growth and job creation by investing in coastal communities across the country.”

“Washington state’s maritime industries fuel local economies and create jobs for thousands of families across our state. Investing in ocean clusters including Washington’s own Maritime Blue will benefit coastal communities, advance our blue economy, and put us on a path towards a sustainable and thriving maritime industry—so I’m proud to be an original cosponsor of this bipartisan bill,”said Sen. Murray.

Specifically, the Ocean ROI Act would require the Secretary of Commerce, acting through the administrator of the U.S. Economic Development Agency, and in consultation with the administrator of NOAA, to designate at least one ocean cluster in each of the five domestic NOAA Fisheries regions and the Great Lakes region, ensuring that at least one cluster is designated in Alaska. The bill would also create grants for cluster operation and administration and one-time capital investments for physical infrastructure.

“For Alaskans in coastal communities who live and work on the water, the blue economy is essential to our livelihoods. The ocean provides us with food, transportation and recreation.  As we learn more about the ocean and apply improved technologies, we see new opportunities in the ocean including expanded food cultivation, energy production, adaptation and mitigation of climate change, among others.  The Ocean ROI Act is a key that will unlock the potential for Alaskans to benefit from these new opportunities,” said Julie Decker, Executive Director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation.

“The Innovation Cluster model is a critical component to achieving our nation's goals to implement the Ocean Climate Action Plan. In order to accelerate innovation, sustainability, and an equitable just transition we need formal mechanisms to collaborate between industry, government, research institutions, and communities. These are established and successful models that we can effectively scale to activate capital, create jobs, and support community resilience,” said Joshua Berger Founder & President/CEO, Washington Maritime Blue. “Washington Maritime Blue was established in 2018 to implement Washington State's Strategy for the Blue Economy. Collectively we've grown our membership to include more than 135 critical stakeholders and partners working together to convene for new markets, demonstrate and commercialize technology, foster a startup ecosystem, and support equitable career pathways.  Together, we've deployed more than $500 million in investment and created more than 500 jobs in our region. We are poised for growth and further impact as we work closely with a national and global coalition of cluster partners.”

“The Ocean Regional Opportunity and Innovation Act is an important catalyst for economic development and job creation. Prior to 2019, the blue economy was not measured by the federal government, but we now know it is growing faster than the overall economy and represents an important area of technological advancement across a spectrum of industries. It has been often said that we know more about outer space than we do about our own oceans. It is imperative that the United States lead in the sustainable development of ocean and water-based industries to leverage our abundant natural resources and benefit the many communities that depend on our oceans and inland aquatic resources,” said Justin Sternberg Director, Alaska Blue Economy Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks. “Over the past two decades, the model for ocean technological innovation has been proven, both in the United States and abroad. Foreign governments have long recognized this opportunity and invested to grow their economies by supporting the interface of industry, academia, and government. However, in the United States we are still at an early stage in this development and the true growth potential lies before us and for future generations. The oceans have sustained life for billions of years. It is time to unlock their potential through the advent of digital technologies that will enable their exploration in ways only dreamed of before, through community-based support for the fishermen and aquatic farmers that provide an abundance of seafood and low-trophic protein for our nation, and through a myriad of technological innovations that will fundamentally change our understanding in areas such as medicine, energy, and economic opportunities. There are many jobs, as yet unrealized, waiting to be created in this space and it is time to invest in their development for future generations.”