Report: ‘Blue’ economy outpaced national growth in 2019

  • Humpback whales breach near a Kenai Fjords Tours vessel. The marine economy, dubbed recently as the “blue” economy, generated nearly $400 billion in gross domestic product in 2019 accordint to a recent federal report. (Photo/Itsik Marom/CIRI)

The nation’s maritime economy accounted for nearly $400 billion worth of gross domestic product in 2019 and its growth outpaced that of the strong, pre-pandemic U.S. economy overall, according to federal data published June 8.

Dubbed the “blue economy” by marketing types, the varied water-centric industries from trans-oceanic shipping to mariculture, cruising, shipbuilding, oil and gas development, commercial fishing to beachcombing combined to provide approximately 1.9 percent of the U.S. GDP in 2019.

The $397 billion of economic output from the blue economy two years ago — which includes the Great Lakes — represented 4.2 percent growth versus 2018, when the sector generated $372 billion, or 1.8 percent of total U.S. GDP.

The growth was not limited to final output, either, according to the first Marine Economy Satellite Account compiled by Commerce Department agencies.

Total compensation for blue economy workers increased 7.3 percent in 2019 alone compared to 4.4 percent for the U.S. economy as a whole and employment up 3.2 percent versus 1.3 percent nationwide. Employment in maritime industries totaled 2.4 million in 2019.

Government was the largest employer with 647,000 jobs, accounting for nearly one-third of maritime-related employment, followed by leisure and hospitality businesses that employed 464,000 workers nationwide.

Businesses in those industries generated more than $665 billion in sales as well, led by the tourism and recreation sector, with $235 billion and national defense and public administration with $180 billion in sales a couple years ago.

In Alaska, 2019 largely represented the historic peak of the state’s tourism industry — led by cruising — with more than 2.2 million visitors during the summer highlighted by record warmth across much of the state. The more than 1.3 million Alaska cruise passengers in 2019 represented 13 percent growth from a year prior, according to Alaska Travel Industry Association data.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a prepared statement that the numbers emphasize the importance of maritime industries in the nation’s overall economic recovery, which is quickly ramping up.

“President Biden sees the immense value and potential of strengthening America’s blue economy, and this administration will continue to take actions to combat the climate crisis, conserve our oceans and protect coastal communities,” Raimondo said.

Nationwide, commercial fishing contributed $7.9 billion towards the nation’s GDP and seafood processing accounted for another $4.4 billion; both were slight increases versus 2018 and were on steadily increasing trends at the time, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis charts. And while the federal report does not get state specific, Alaska accounted for a very large share of that based on a January 2020 report commissioned by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Alaska’s seafood harvesting and processing industries generate $5.9 billion in direct output spread across the nation, according to the report compiled by McKinley Research Group.

Acting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Ben Friedman said the newly-generated maritime economic data should help government officials with policy as well as assist private groups in making investments in target markets.

One of the fastest growing subset of the blue economy was non-recreational vessel construction, which generated $31.2 billion in gross output for a 37 percent increase over 2018.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
06/16/2021 - 9:42am