The Blue Economy is already a powerful economic engine for the country as a whole and Massachusetts in particular. But it needs continued investment -- in time, attention and resources -- to continue to grow.

Ocean-related industries (and those associated with the Great Lakes) posted sales of $665.7 billion in sales in 2019 while providing 2.4 million jobs, according to a report released earlier this week by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. 

The marine economy’s pace of growth in recent years has been nothing short of impressive. The sector grew almost twice as fast in 2019 as the overall U.S. economy, posting a 4.2% increase in gross domestic product, compared to 2.2% for the overall U.S. GDP.

Capitalizing on that growth here in Massachusetts is no simple thing, where the blue economy encompasses everything from the historic fishing industry to tourism and shoreside attractions like beaches to emerging industries such as marine biotech and wind energy.

Building better relationships among those sometimes competing factions can only help push the blue economy forward. Locally, the North Shore Blue Economy Initiative, working through the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, is expected to release a report later this year that includes a vision for the region’s future.

While we await that report, here are three areas where public and private decision-makers should be focusing their efforts:

Infrastructure: As we noted in this space last month, the state’s ports are crumbling, and need a major infusion of funds to keep them viable as a headquarters for everything from traditional fishing to the building and support of offshore wind farms. There is no ocean economy without a modern working waterfront.

Job training: There has been an innovation explosion in recent years in everything from marine robotics to biotech. And as Jim Brett, head of the New England Council, said last year, for those industries to flourish, there needs to be “talent in the pipeline.” That takes specialized education that begins in high school and continues through college as well as an array of job-retraining programs that allow longtime waterfront veterans to find new careers in emerging industries.  

Climate change: Warming waters have already shifted many valuable fish and lobster stocks farther north, toward the cooler waters of Canada. Our waters -- and our fish -- are filling with microscopic particles of discarded plastic. Meanwhile, coastal flooding and erosion are becoming more severe. There is no blue economy if the resource isn’t protected.

None of this comes cheap. But as this week’s federal report bears out, wise investment can pay off for years to come.

 

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