A major new study is being launched to determine the Highlands and Islands’ potential to become a leading player in developing the UK’s marine economy.
The scope for future growth in the aquaculture, energy and bioscience industries will be the main areas of focus for the first full “science and innovation audit” (SIA) to be undertaken on the sector in the region.
A consortium led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) will carry out the research. It will include the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), the Scottish aquaculture and industrial biotechnology innovation centres, the Orkney-based European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), Marine Scotland Science and the National Oceanography Centre.
Morven Cameron, HIE’s head of universities, education and skills, said: “Our lochs, rivers and coastal waters constitute a tremendously valuable asset that already makes a massive contribution to the regional economy and has the potential to achieve even more.
“Sectors as diverse as food and drink, tourism, life sciences and renewable energy are well established, supporting thousands of jobs, many of them in fragile areas of our islands and rural mainland.”
She added: “The audit will enable us to establish a definitive assessment of the extent to which businesses and communities are using our marine resource, and assess the scope for further development to drive economic growth across the region. It will also help to put the Highlands and Islands on the UK map as a place where science and innovation are playing an increasingly important role and have potential to go further.”
The project is one of 12 UK science and innovation audits announced by science minister Jo Johnson.
He said: “Now in their third wave, the science and innovation audits are providing valuable insight into the ground-breaking work taking place across the UK and the contributions we are making to solve challenges across the world.
“The work of the successful regions undertaking their SIA in this wave will support the development and delivery of our industrial strategy and allow places to build on their strengths. This will ensure that the UK remains competitive in the global market and is best placed to continue leading scientific discoveries and taking them to market.”
The findings of the research are expected to be published towards the end of next year.
HIE has also launched a separate study to determine the future skills needs of the aquaculture sector in the Highlands and Islands.
Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said: “This mapping work will help to ensure that we have the right skills in the right places in the sector and have a plan in place to address any gaps and I would encourage all with an interest to participate.
“Being the workplace of choice and attracting a diverse and multi skilled workforce will be essential to maintaining the momentum and ambition within the sector.”
The research is being carried out by ekosgen and Imani Development.