Marine Biotechnology in Canada

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In 2009, according to Canadian Government statistics, 208 firms reported revenues from bioproducts amounting to C$1.3 billion (of which over C$900M came from bioethanol) [1]. 5% of the companies obtained their biomass from marine and aquaculture sources.

National strategy for biotechnology

Canada’s first National Strategy was published in 1983 and renewed in 1998. It dwells more on biosafety and regulation than on scientific or economic development programmes.

A review of key biotechnology strengths in 2005 noted that Canada ranked 2nd in the world for scientific publications and impacts in aquatic biotechnology, especially aquaculture, molecular ecology, and environmental monitoring.

National strategy for marine biotechnology

There is no specific marine biotechnology strategy. The 2002 marine strategy and the 2007 Healthy Oceans Initiative contain elements of marine bioscience, biology and bioresource use. Canada has made C$60M available over 5 years for marine activities in the HOI.

Individual provinces have established strategies or action plans for marine biotechnology and bioresource development. Québec has established Project ACCORD (Action concertée de cooperation régionale du développement [2]) including action plans for Niches of Excellence, one of which concerns Marine resources, sciences and technologies, with clusters in marine biotechnology, aquaculture, seafood processing and marine technologies.


Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has a strong R&D programme in Aquatic Biotechnology and Genomics covering resource profiling, aquatic animal health, and ecosystem health [3]. DFO supports a number of centres of expertise, including CECSSR (coldwater coral and sponge reefs) in St John’s Newfoundland [4] and CAAHRD (animal health and diagnostics) in Moncton New Brunswick.

The National Bioproducts Program was a joint initiative of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), Agriculture and Agrifood Canada and Natural Resources Canada. A highly-relevant programme looked at capacity-building for Canadian algal biofuels, involving teams from across NRC (spanning marine biosciences, aerospace research, chemical processing, and biotechnology) [5].

The National Research Council (NRC) of Canada, a Government Agency, is responsible for over 20 institutes and a number of national programme, some including projects relevant to marine biotechnology, including microalgal bioactives and biofuels, bioprospecting, metabolomics, algal biotoxins and biomedical uses of marine natural products. It provides clients and partners with access to innovation support, strategic research and technical services, with a strong focus on meeting Canada’s current and future industrial and societal needs. Apart from its aquatic research activities, NRC undertakes marine research without a direct bio connection, involving chemists, physicists, metrologists, engineers and technicians from across a range of disciplines to help solve complex research and technology challenges.

Genome Canada, a national organisation established in 2000 , linked to independent, regional Genome Centres, is responsible for a national strategy aimed at fostering genomics developments in terms of scientific output, infrastructure support and research talent [6]. The Genome Canada Enterprise provides support for national and international collaborations in key sectors of importance to Canada.

Within the field of marine biotechnology, Genome Canada and the regional Genome Centres support a variety of genomic applications including molecular aquaculture, metagenomics, and high throughput screening. In partnership with Genome British Columbia, a Canadian-led international collaboration was funded to develop genomic resources for salmonids that are now being used to examine responses to environmental factors, pathogens and pollutants, and for broodstock development. Building on this investment, Genome British Columbia is also partner in the international salmon genome project [7] that will provide the knowledge and tools for improved management of wild fish stocks, for selective breeding for the aquaculture industry and for food quality, security and traceability.

Genome Canada and Genome Atlantic have established a public-private-partnership to provide tools and resources to the Atlantic cod aquaculture industry to identify markers for traits related to growth, disease resistance and stress tolerance for marker assisted selection.

Genome Canada and the Ontario Genomics Institute are funding an international initiative called the Barcode of Life (iBOL), part of which deals with marine lifeforms. This technology is now being applied to regulating the labelling of fish in markets and restaurants in several countries .

Genome Canada, Genome Atlantic and Genome British Columbia are also partners in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) activities on marine biotechnology.

Centres of marine biotechnology research

The Marine Biotechnology Research Centre in Rimouski, Québec, established in 2004 at a cost of US$14M, is focused on translational research and product and process development for specific industrial needs, via project work for Canadian and international companies [8]. It can call on the scientific, nutritional and medical expertise of a number of local, regional and national partners and also collaborates with the Centre québecois de valorisation des biotechnologies and Merinov, the Centre d’innovation de l’aquaculture et des pêches du Québec, in the Consortium BioMar Innovation. International collaborators include Ifremer, France and Norut’s Department of Biotechnology and Barendts BioCentre, Norway. It has GMP-accredited manufacturing facilities and a small business incubator.

Other centres include:

  • Bedford Institute of Oceanography, which carries out work on ecosystems and ocean behaviour to assist fisheries, aquaculture and ocean resource development [9]. It operates the Real-Time Arctic Ocean Observatory [10];
  • Dalhousie University, with a Marine Biology department with some activity in molecular marine studies [11];
  • McGill University Department of Natural Resource Sciences, which is active in Arctic marine biotechnology, both bioprospecting and bioremediation of pollution [12];
  • The Ocean Sciences Centre, Memorial University of Newfoundland, which includes molecular biology, molecular aquaculture and biological oceanography in its activities [13];
  • The University of Prince Edward Island, collaborating with Nautilus Biosciences Canada as part of Nautilus’s biodiscovery activities [14];
  • The University of Toronto, a participant in EU-funded projects MAGICPAH and MAMBA.

Private investment

Leading companies using marine bioresources include Ocean Nutrition Canada Limited, the world’s largest supplier of Omega-3 EPA/DHA ingredients to the dietary supplement and food manufacturing markets, recently purchased by Royal DSM; Acadian Seaplants Ltd, which processes seaweed into products for food, biochemical, agricultural and agri-chemical markets; Jellett Rapid Testing, with screening tests to identify paralytic shellfish poisoning; Kenney & Ross Ltd, the world’s largest manufacturer of fish gelatine products, which uses seafood by-products as the source of an anti-inflammatory for the pet market; and Nautilus Biosciences Canada Inc., which is focused on the discovery and sustainable development of marine-derived natural products with applications in human and animal health and wellbeing.


These include:

  • ArcticNet, a network of centres of excellence working on the impacts of climate change and modernisation in the Arctic North of Canada, including ecosystems, Inuit adaptation and industrial development [15]. ArcticNet involves 30 Canadian Universities, 19 Federal and Provincial agencies and research teams from 12 other countries (Denmark, Finland, France, Greenland, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, UK; Japan; USA). It has received start-up funding of C$140M;
  • CCCM (the Canadian Center for the Culture of Microorganisms [16]), which hosts NEPCC (the North East Pacific Culture Collection) and FWAC (the Freshwater Algal Culture Collection);
  • NSERC’s Canadian Healthy Ocean Network, a Strategic Research network studying marine biodiversity [17].
  • DAMAMNet (Discovery and Application of Marine Active Materials network) was a short-lived project intending to link the Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick, Newfoundland/Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) with Quebec, in a number of research projects in marine bioactives, adding value to underused marine catches and fisheries by-products, commercialisation of marine algae, new biopolymers and new processing and separation technologies.
  • The ONC (OCEAN NETWORKS Canada) Observatory, off the NE Pacific coast of British Columbia, is managed by the University of Victoria. It is currently the world’s most important regional ocean observatory facility, linking remote sensors and instrumentation by cable with the Internet to allow an extremely broad range of physical, chemical, biological and geological variables to be continuously and simultaneously measured [18]. The ONC Observatory is an unparalleled tool for ocean experiments on the seafloor and through the water column, including studies of marine genomics of hydrothermal vent systems and other subsea environments.



This draft country profile is based on available online information sources and contributions from various country experts and stakeholders. It does not aim nor claim to be complete or final, but should be considered as a dynamic and living information resource that will be elaborated, updated and improved as more information becomes available, including further inputs from experts and stakeholders.

The information on this page is based on information initially compiled by Meredith Lloyd-Evans (BioBridge) as part of the CSA MarineBiotech Project activities (2011-2013).