(St. John’s, NL: 19 Nov. 2014) Glenn Blackwood grew up on the ocean and comes from a long line of ship captains and seafarers. Therefore, it was no surprise that by the time he was 17 Blackwood had enrolled in the marine biology program at Memorial University. “I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau,” he admits.
Blackwood completely immersed himself in the program taking a full load of courses, scuba diving, and “knocking around” the Ocean Sciences Centre and the Bonne Bay Marine Station on the west coast of the island. “It was as good as it gets,” Blackwood enthuses. He worked summer jobs with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, with Memorial and with the provincial Department of Fisheries. Not surprisingly, the provincial department of Fisheries scooped him up before he graduated.
Reflecting on his time at Memorial, Blackwood says he was happy with the academic program. “Even before I graduated, I was teaching undergraduates at Memorial. After I graduated, I taught graduates as well,” he says. But, given his strong interest in fisheries research, he felt something was missing from the program. “The at-sea component was limited. The program was focused on studying the animals but not the commercial species, or the going to sea,” he says.
As a marine biologist with the province in the ’80s Blackwood became the director of resource analysis during the northern cod collapse. That gave him a front row seat on Newfoundland and Labrador’s social dilemma for resource management. “After the collapse of the northern cod, I did a resource management master’s at Memorial in the early ’90s. And that helped me to realize that the human resources, or the people management side, of the fisheries is as important as the biological management.”
While he was with government, Blackwood helped to put funding in place to create the Chair of Fisheries Conservation at the Marine Institute. “I sat on the panel that hired Dr. George Rose in the mid-1990s to that position. We have an enormous capacity in George. He is world renowned especially in the areas of cod and ground fish,” he says pausing adn then adds with a grin, “He wrote the book on it.”
In looking back over his career thus far, it is evident that Blackwood always had a vision about how research, science and practical demands could be combined for the benefit of the province. A vision that may have contributed to his move in 1997, after 17 years as an upwardly mobile civil servant, to run the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation, and eventually to take the lead as vice-president, Memorial University responsible for the Marine Institute.
Today the Marine Institute is an internationally recognized leader in ocean technology and safety and Blackwood is credited with the transformation of that institute, once grounded in the marine transport and fisheries side of ocean industries, into a world oceans institute recognized globally for its educational and research expertise.
“I think the Marine Institute’s integration into Memorial in 1992 was a great move for both organizations. The institute has grown its degree and master’s programs and greatly expanded the capacity of its applied research centres,” says Blackwood.
One of the things about which he is most enthusiastic is the potential of the ocean resources, research and industries in this province. “We’ve got the ability at the Marine Institute and within the rest of Memorial University to make a major difference to the province’s economic growth by capitalizing on the entire value of the ocean,” says Blackwood. That includes gas off Labrador, the oil on the Grand Banks, the inshore and offshore fisheries, and the marine transportation sector. “Seabed mapping can play an important part in all of that,” he says and then with a sparkle in his eye quotes Randy Gillespie, director of the Marine Institute’s Centre for Applied Ocean Technology: “We’re going from Captain Cook to Captain Kirk.”
The capabilities conferred by technology are a source of confidence for Blackwood. “It’s frustrated me my whole life that you can’t see what is going on beneath the waves. You see a scattered whale or iceberg, but the rest of it is hidden under the surface,” he says. But with the increasing array of remote sensing technologies available today, many of which are developed by companies in the province’s ocean innovation ecosystem, Blackwood says, “We are finally able to begin lifting the lid off big blue.”
“I believe we have the opportunity to bring into line our industry focus, our government departments and our academic and research programs into something truly special to maximize the value of our ocean resources, says Blackwood. “These three components, like the blades of a propeller, need to be balanced and aligned.”
“Our biggest challenge moving forward is managing expectations, building facilities, adjusting budgets and attracting and retaining people simultaneously. Rising to the enormous opportunities that present themselves to us,” says Blackwood. To do that, he says, “We can use the knowledge and ability we’ve developed … in fisheries and marine transportation and ocean technology and safety … we can apply it, we can take it global. We’re gaining recognition as a world oceans institute. I see it every day in our graduates, in our clients and in our research.”