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Seafood, marine industries prep for Seattle Ocean Cluster

A New England Ocean Cluster has proven successful, and it's ready to grow.

Iceland Ocean Cluster -- a group connecting companies, entrepreneurs, investors and academics in the marine industry -- has seen such success that the group has slowly been expanding into the United States.

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The New England Ocean Cluster was set up a couple of years ago and the Cluster House -- a physical space for the entities to collaborate, which will include an Incubation Center to help start-ups kick start their plans -- will officially open in Portland, Maine, next month.

Now, former Icelandic Minister of Industry and Commerce Ragga Arnadottir is working on setting up a similar cluster for the Seattle industry.

"It really started just like the New England project, with local interest," Arnadottir told IntraFish. "We have had a lot of interest from other US areas, Seattle being one of them."

Arnadottir officially joined the Iceland Ocean Cluster a handful of weeks ago, specifically to start the Seattle project, but she said she worked with the group intensively during her time as minister.

Still, even though the project is "definitely in the initial stages," Iceland Ocean Cluster Founder and CEO Thor Sigfusson has been thinking about developing a cluster in Seattle for some time.

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"We've felt interest [in Seattle] both from the public sector, as well as from local companies and from Icelandic companies who see this as in interesting market," Arnadottir said.

"A lot of Icelandic big players and bankers and Iceland Air have been involved with this area, so we feel a lot of interest back home."

Arnadottir spent several days in Seattle earlier this month -- partly to attend the Fish 2.0 workshop -- and to have "good discussions" with groups such as the Port of Seattle, Washington Governor Jay Inslee's office, the University of Washington "and other players that might be potential partners."

"It's too early to say we have formed any alliances or partnerships, this is all in the initial stages," Arnadottir cautioned. "But so far, so good."

She's urging anyone connected to the ocean to consider participation -- from fisheries gear makers, equipment makers, even clothing designers who use fish leather in their products.

"Our main purpose is very simple," she said. "We want to increase the worth and value of each fish caught and eliminate waste, and therefore emphasize sustainability and respect for the resource. Any company here that is interested in that is a potential partner."

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One thing Arnadottir wants to make clear: Iceland Ocean Cluster is not here to copy and paste its experience in her home country, and she's not looking to run the show once a Seattle Ocean Cluster is established.

"We are looking for local partners and we want to fulfill the local demands," she said. "If things are done differently here, we will adjust our model to that rather than impose our way of doing things. It's a complete partnership."

Arnadottir also will help facilitate the initial organization process, but "I'm not going to be the person who will run this in the future. I will just get it in the hands of a local partner that can operate it and see the baby grow."

Indeed, the model has proven successful in Iceland and has piqued the industry's interest in the United States.

The group had an introductory meeting at Seafood Expo North America in Boston last month, and Arnadottir said they expected less than two dozen people to attend.

"We had 60 people from six US states and a lot of companies, each which have their agenda but are willing to cooperate," she said. "That is very rewarding and something we can build upon."

The timeline is dependent on the process of forming a company, but Arnadottir hopes to have established the cluster by this fall, she said.

The process of establishing the actual Ocean Cluster House took two years in New England, so she's predicting a similar timeline for a similar space in Seattle.

As for other places in th US, "there's definitely interest from Alaska," she said, adding that there is already an unaffiliated Alaska Ocean Cluster in place, but "whether or not we will partner with them is too early to tell."

"Whether Seattle will be connecting the Northwest or if there will be Ocean Clusters in other places, it's something that needs to be decided upon locally I think," Arnadottir said. "The most important thing is respecting the individual needs of the areas."

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