Ocean Contributes Billions of Dollars to BC Economy: Study

Image via University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.

A University of British Columbia study concludes that ocean waters contributed nearly $5 billion to the provincial gross domestic product in 2015, and that the sum is likely underestimated, as it included only sectors most closely linked to the ocean.

But the initial estimate raises additional questions, a starting point for policy to generate some sort of informed decision, said authors of the report published in the free online journal MDPI (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute).

The authors suggest that their estimate could be used by non-economists to work out a baseline of what oceans contribute to the economy, as part of achieving the United Nations’ goal of sustainable oceans by 2030.

Senior author Rashid Sumalia, a professor at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and school of public policy and global affairs, said they had to use data available at the time of the analysis, but that the good news is that technology is now being deployed to help shorten the time lag.

Canada is among the countries committed to the UN goal of sustainable oceans by 2030, which means policy makers need a baseline understanding of the ocean’s contribution to the economy. The study looks at six sectors, including wild fisheries, marine recreation and tourism, cruise lines and marine transportation, and found that the ocean generated about $4.9 billion to gross domestic product and over 106,000 jobs in 2015.

The marine transport sector, including marine shipping, provided the largest overall contribution to the GDP, followed by cruise lines, with GDP contributions of 66% and 13% respectively, the report said.

The study did not include ecosystem services provided by the ocean, including water purification and carbon sequestration, or cultural value, which the authors said would have significantly raised the total contribution.

The study also makes no mention of mining, a resource industry with a potential adverse impact on wild fisheries, if mine discharges went into waters where wild fish migrate and spawn. Nor did it mention the Mount Polley mine disaster in British Columbia, the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic and rising ocean temperature, all of which have occurred since 2015.

“Surely these events would impact our estimates and more work needs to be done,” Sumalia said. The published analysis, she added, is just a tip of the iceberg as far as needed analysis.

Authors noted that the estimated economic value is not representative of the full value of the ocean as it also excludes oil and gas research and education and other activities that did not meet the criteria for inclusion, nor does it account for cultural and ecological values.

Nonetheless, they said, the study does highlight the substantial number of economic benefits generated by the blue economy. The framework also provides a simplified procedure for quantifying economic benefits, so that non-specialists can perform rapid economic assessments in a variety of contexts.

The study is online at https://tinyurl.com/3u4hydme.