In 1970, the foundation of the Groupe Interuniversitaire de Recherches Océanographiques du Québec (GIROQ) by a group of researchers from Laval, McGill and Montreal universities on the one hand, and the priority development of the "Oceanography" axis at the Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR) on the other hand, laid the foundations for concerted oceanographic research in Quebec.

Funded by the Quebec government as early as 1973, GIROQ developed until 2001, first with the three university components, then with only the McGill and Laval teams. At the same time, INRS founded an institute in Oceanology in 1972 in Rimouski, while UQAR created an oceanographic section (SOUQAR) in 1973.  In 1978, the Oceanography Department of UQAR was created. In the early 1990s, an agreement between the UQAR Oceanography Department and INRS-Océanologie was concluded to form the Centre océanographique de Rimouski (COR), which led to the creation of the Institut des Sciences de la Mer (ISMER) in 1999.

In 2001-2002, the new Regroupements stratégiques program of the Fonds québécois de recherche sur la nature et les technologies (FQRNT) led to the official collaboration of several oceanographers from Laval University, McGill University and UQAR-ISMER to form Québec-Océan, the inter-institutional oceanographic research group in Quebec.

Beyond policies and administrative structures, Quebec oceanographers have been conducting research in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence, northern Quebec, and Canada for nearly 50 years, while studying certain marine ecosystems in the seas around the world. Both fundamental and applied research covers the four basic disciplines of oceanography: physics, chemistry, geology, and biology. 

Over the years, GIROQ and then Québec-Océan members have contributed to or led many research programs, from local to international levels. Québec-Océan has contributed to the establishment of the ArcticNet Network of Centres of Excellence (2004), the St. Lawrence Global Observatory (SLGO, 2005), the Canada Excellence Research Chair on the New Arctic Frontier (2011), the Takuvik International Joint Unit (U. Laval and CNRS, France, 2011), as well as the Apogee Canada Sentinel North Program (2015). To carry out these large-scale projects, Québec-Océan maintains a fleet of oceanographic equipment and has provided itself with means at sea via the research vessel Coriolis II, managed by REFORMAR, and the icebreaker CCGS Amundsen, co-managed by Amundsen Science and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Currently, Québec-Océan remains a pillar of major oceanographic initiatives in Québec and Canada, through its involvement in the creation and operation of the Institut Nordique du Québec (INQ, 2014), the Réseau Québec Maritime (RQM, 2016), the Institut France-Québec pour la coopération scientifique en appui au secteur maritime (IFQM, 2016) and the community of practice of the Ocean Research in Canada Alliance (ORCA, 2018).