Renewable Matter # 2 / Numero #2

The Blue Economy Is Worth 500 Billion Euro

by Ilaria Nardello

With the Blue Growth Strategy (2012), the EU Commission has clearly identified the seas’ and oceans’ great potential to contribute to Europe’s long term plan for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. According to the Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG Mare), the “blue” economy represents roughly 5.4 million jobs and generates a gross added value of almost €500 billion a year.

According to the Commission, sea-related industries and their services generated between 3% and 5% of Europe’s GDP, in 2007: spanning from the 1.2% of GDP of Ireland’s ocean economy; to 4.2% in the UK. The objective of our policies is to nearly double those values by 2020. More precise and detailed estimates are in fact needed when we wish to quantify the business volume that this sector generates. Accurate socio-economic data would be of use in the management of our development efforts and in the deployment of research and innovation resources. Any investment is only justified by the likely return it would generate, whether tangible or intangible. However, only a very small part of the vast trans-sectorial domain of the blue economy is currently inventoried, monitored and reported on. 

The tip of the blue economy iceberg is represented by the most traditional activities such as fisheries, aquaculture and maritime transportation. However, the most innovative activities, with their large growth potential, are usually unaccounted for. The lack of data on the marine biotechnology-driven economy is due to an actual difficulty to capture the trends of its business activities. As reported by the EU Interreg Atlantic Blue Tech project (ABT), this sector is mainly based on micro or small companies. The more innovative their business, the quicker their transformation and evolution is, with most companies being born and then passed on or dismantled, in the matter of a few years. 

A few EU countries have internalised the Commission’s directives by adopting a specific marine strategy. In Europe, these include Ireland and Portugal. Norway has also a long-established marine biotechnology research strategy. We can be certain that Europe’s vision for the role of the oceans has transcended the European boundaries and likely inspired the policy of other countries, even with different development velocities, at the global level. From Canada, which called for “our oceans, our future”, already in 2002 and launched an Ocean Innovation conference in 2013; to the more recent plans of Bangladesh’s authorities to structure the use of their marine ecosystem and its services. The latter example becomes less surprising considering a concept paper on the “ocean economy”, prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to which Bangladesh has an area of over 100,000 square kilometre of exclusive economic zone; and the Bay of Bengal is being considered as the most extensive of the world’s 64 Large Marine Econo-system (LME), as per the classification by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. 

Given the growing attention that the seas are attracting, it is vital that the data collection is optimised for the monitoring of their ecological status as well as their socio-economic value. It is also important that the diversity of the blue economy domain, which exists beyond the traditional fishery and aquaculture sectors, gains representation in the Bioeconomy Observatory of the European Commission. However the two main strategies, underpinning blue growth on one side, and the bioeconomy on the other, seem to fail to refer to each other or to a common repository of data. A further effort is especially needed to capture the complexity of the productive activities driven by the utilization of our marine biological resources. In this respect, the hopes are high that the United Nations’ first World Ocean Assessment will provide an appropriate working model for the regular description of the status of all the world’s seas, along the environmental, social and economic dimensions, which are the three pillars of a sustainable development.