4. Innovative approaches to measuring the ocean economy

Realising the full potential of the ocean demands responsible, sustainable approaches to its economic development. And in order to better manage the ocean, decision-makers need ever more reliable data to inform their actions and evidence-based policies. This requires a good understanding of what the ocean economy represents and how its multifaceted activities may link with the overall economy. This chapter explores new approaches to measuring the ocean economy, notably by highlighting the use of satellite accounts for its twin pillars - ocean-based economic activities and marine ecosystem services - and by examining ways to better measure the benefits that sustained ocean observations provide not only to science, but to the economy and society more generally.


4.1. Measuring the ocean economy in new ways

A healthy ocean and its resources are indispensable for addressing the multiple challenges that the planet faces in the decades to come, from mitigating climate change to providing proteins to a growing world population. This calls for responsible, sustainable approaches to manage its rapid economic development. In practice, decision-makers will need ever more reliable socioeconomic data to inform their actions and evidence-based policies. This implies a good understanding of what a sustainable ocean economy represents and how its multifaceted activities – including its crucial environmental components – may link with economic statistics, such as those produced through the system of national accounts. This calls for new approaches to measuring the ocean economy beyond sectoral approaches.

This chapter:

  • Provides a review of current practices in measuring the ocean economy, identifying challenges and possible solutions, both on the ocean economy’s economic and environmental components;

  • Points to the development of satellite accounts for the ocean as a possible way forward, with lessons learned from different countries and practical advice based on OECD national accounting perspectives;

  • Shares findings on how ocean observatories, as scientific infrastructure and technical operational systems, are impacting our societies and the wider economy. Beyond their crucial role in our understanding of the ocean, they will increasingly feed into more evidence-based information via socio-economic indicators, to guide policy-makers’ investments and priority-setting.

4.2. The starting point for new measurement: finding the right balance between economic activities and the environment

This section provides an overview of the concept of the ocean economy, reviews measurement issues for ocean economy activities, and then introduces key issues related to the valuation of marine ecosystems.

4.2.1. The concept of the ocean economy

Different terminologies are used around the world to describe economic activities based on the ocean. Terms like ocean industry, marine economy, marine industry, marine activity, maritime economy and maritime sector are all employed (Table 4.1). Except for the broader concept of the “blue economy”, such descriptions tend not to encompass the oceans environmental dimensions.

The ocean economy is defined by the OECD as the sum of the economic activities of ocean-based industries, together with the assets, goods and services provided by marine ecosystems (OECD, 2016[1]). This definition recognises that the ocean economy encompasses ocean-based industries – such as shipping, fishing, offshore wind energy and marine biotechnology – but also the natural assets and ecosystem services that the ocean provides – fish, shipping lanes, CO2 absorption and the like.

The two pillars of the ocean economy are interdependent in that much activity associated with ocean-based industry is derived from marine ecosystems, while industrial activity often impacts marine ecosystems. This concept, as an interaction between two pillars with corresponding economic value, is but one motivation for ensuring that both ocean-based industry and marine ecosystems are measured in a consistent and replicable way.

Furthermore, achieving an environmentally sustainable ocean economy requires the consistent and replicable measurement of both pillars of the ocean economy over time, but also the identification and monitoring of their cross-over impacts. This would likely involve the development of related environmental indicators suitable for feeding into broader socio-economic assessments in a timely fashion (e.g. regular tracking of pressures such as marine pollution). The application of sustainable solutions would also benefit from better knowledge of the ocean’s carrying capacity.

Table 4.1. Selected definitions of the ocean economy


Main substance


The economic activity, which is (a) an industry whose definition explicitly ties the activity to the ocean, or (b) which is partially related to the ocean and is located in a shore-adjacent zip code.


Those activities which involve working on or in the sea. Also those activities that are involved in the production of goods or the provision of services that will directly contribute to activities on or in the sea.


Ocean–based activity (“Is the ocean resource the main input? Is access to the ocean a significant factor in the activity?”).


Economic activity which directly or indirectly uses the sea as an input.


The sum of all kinds of activities associated with the development, utilization and protection of the ocean.


Those industries that are based in Canada’s maritime zones and coastal communities adjoining these zones, or are dependent on activities in these areas for their income.

New Zealand

The economic activity that takes place in, or uses the marine environment, or produces goods and services necessary for those activities, or makes a direct contribution to the national economy.


Industry exclusively responsible for the development, use and conservation of the ocean.

South Korea

The economic activity that takes place in the ocean, which also includes the economic activity, which puts the goods and services into ocean activity and uses the ocean resources as an input.


Economic activities that take place at sea and others that are not taking place at sea but depend on it, including marine natural capital and non-tradable services off marine ecosystems

Source: Adapted from Park and Kildow (2014[2]) Rebuilding the Classification System of the Ocean Economy. https://doi.org/10.15351/2373-8456.1001 and Statistics Portugal and DGMP (2016[3]) Satellite Account for the Sea – 2010-2013 Methodological Report.

There are many additional reasons for measuring the ocean economy, be it at national, regional or global level, and wishing to estimate ocean economic activity and marine ecosystems in terms of their economic value. At the international level, the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goal 14 on the ocean, seas and marine resources, as well as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, provide strong incentives to make progress on qualitative and quantitative measurement (Box 4.1). Tracking the contribution of the ocean economy to the overall economy is likely to raise public awareness of the importance of the ocean, offering higher visibility to both investment opportunities in economic activities and to crucial problems that demand action at many levels (e.g. contributing to the circular economy).

Socioeconomic indicators may be used by policymakers to render more concrete policy action towards the conservation and sustainable use of marine ecosystems. Efforts to measure the ocean economy at the national level appear to have intensified in the past five years in many countries. The results of such efforts are likely to be used in decision making across a variety of domains, raising further awareness of the ocean economy among citizens, policymakers and industry, ultimately enabling support to be targeted to areas where it is most effective (see Annex 4.B for selected national ocean economy measurement initiatives).

Box 4.1. Global objectives for measuring the value of the ocean economy

Of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on 25 September 2015, SDG 14 “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” is the most relevant for the ocean economy. SDG 14 contains ten individual targets with an emphasis on protecting the marine environment. While SDG 14 represents an aspirational objective, measuring progress towards achieving the individual targets remains a challenge. The UN’s list of suggested indicators (UNSD, 2018[4]) does not yet provide the degree of quantification required to track progress towards SDG 14 effectively (Cormier and Elliott, 2017[5]). In a study of datasets and indicators available to the OECD, SDG 14 had only one target covered by at least one indicator, the lowest proportion of all the SDGs (OECD, 2017[6]). A greater emphasis on integrated and ecosystem based management approaches is suggested as a potential policy response to the need to balance marine conservation and resource exploitation (ICSU, 2017[7]). Assessments of marine protected areas (MPAs), for example, have shown that they benefit both the ecosystems under protection and increase the value of fish taken from nearby fisheries (Chirico, McClanahan and Eklöf, 2017[8]). Furthermore, integrating MPAs within a fully realised marine spatial plan that manages the use of marine resources more broadly has been shown to improve the effectiveness of no-take zones (Agardy, di Sciara and Christie, 2011[9]). Connecting this with the sustainable development agenda, other marine related studies have focussed on the role of marine spatial planning as a way of enhancing the synergies between the SDGs (Ntona and Morgera, 2018[10]). A fundamental argument of all such analyses is that robust measurements of the economic, social and environmental elements of the SDGs are required if the core development objectives are to be achieved. And the system of national accounts has been recognised as a highly organised way of providing the required data (WAVES, 2016[11]). Beyond the SDGs, the potential for national accounting systems to provide useful data for measuring progress towards international objectives was recognised explicitly in the Convention for Biological Diversity’s Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020. Target 2 states that “by 2020, at the latest, biodiversity values have been integrated into national and local development and poverty reduction strategies and planning processes and are being incorporated into national accounting, as appropriate, and reporting systems” (CBD, 2011[12]). It is clear therefore that the SDGs represent a further rationale for measuring the ocean economy.

Also on practical governance aspects, the interdependency of ocean-based industry and marine ecosystems, combined with increasingly severe threats to the health of the ocean, have led to a growing recognition that management of the ocean should be based on an integrated ecosystem approach (OECD, 2016[1]). Several management strategies have been suggested to achieve this, including Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and Marine Protected Areas (MPA). Crucial to each framework is an accurate and extensive information base on ocean economic activity, the state of marine ecosystems, and the interactions between the two. At the heart of such measurements are physical units, such as ecosystem extent measured in terms of area (e.g. km2) and the condition of ecosystems. This need for extensive information links well with advances in monitoring technologies and the practical applications of ocean observations, as seen in Section 4.4. A step further in refining ocean management strategies, would ideally include a regular evaluation of the effectiveness of the policy instruments used, in particular for biodiversity preservation (Karousakis, 2018[13]).

The quality of measurements is also a crucial factor, given the importance of measuring the ocean economy established above. Ultimately, ocean economy data should meet a number of stringent criteria. It should be comparable across industries, locations and time, from international to national to local levels, and at any point. It should also be consistent theoretically and reflect up-to-date theory on the measurement of economic activity, with no double counting. Finally, it should be replicable with a clearly outlined methodology made publicly available. Such conditions apply to data on both ocean-based industry and marine ecosystems. Their respective economic measurement issues will be explored in the following two sections.

4.2.2. Measuring ocean economic activities

The first stage in many ocean economy measurements is to scope relevant ocean-based industries, so that the types of economic activities conducted can be identified. A second step is to collect data on the chosen sector-specific organisations, via existing official databases and/or industry surveys, and analysing the relevant data afterwards. Both stages can be challenging when examining the ocean economy.

The sectoral scope of the ocean economy varies considerably by country. Some industries may be excluded from the ocean economy in one country but not in another. Moreover, there are significant differences among countries in the delineation of the classifications and categories used. Internationally agreed definitions and statistical terminology for ocean-based activities do not yet exist. A detailed discussion of how measurements of the ocean economy are currently undertaken at the national level is provided in Annex 4.A.

As part of its Ocean Economy to 2030 foresight exercise, the OECD categorised established and emerging ocean-based activities, bearing in mind overlapping definitions and the existence of highly dynamic emerging activities within traditional ocean-based industries (Table 4.2).

Table 4.2. Selected ocean-based industries

Established industries

Emerging industries

Capture fisheries

Marine aquaculture

Seafood processing

Deep- and ultra-deep water oil and gas


Offshore wind energy


Ocean renewable energy

Shipbuilding and repair

Marine and seabed mining

Offshore oil and gas (shallow water)

Maritime safety and surveillance

Marine manufacturing and construction

Marine biotechnology

Maritime and coastal tourism

High-tech marine products and services

Marine business services

Marine R&D and education


Source: OECD (2016[1]) The Ocean Economy in 2030. https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264251724-en

A recent report of Scotland’s Marine Economic Statistics provides a detailed illustration of the methodology generally used to measure the ocean economy (Marine Scotland, 2018[14]). The Scottish marine sector is composed of ten selected ocean-based industries, and estimates of the Gross Value Added (GVA), turnover, and employment are provided for each industry (Table 4.3). The data for the majority of the industries are sourced from surveys of Scottish businesses conducted by the UK’s Office of National Statistics through the national accounting process. Data on fisheries and aquaculture are taken from detailed surveys conducted by Marine Scotland in order to meet standards for data used in support of the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy.

Table 4.3. Measurement of the ocean economy of Scotland
Gross value added, turnover and employment in ten Scottish ocean-based industries in 2016

Ocean-based industry

Gross value added

(GBP millions)


(GBP millions)


(head count thousands)









Support for oil & gas




Seafood processing








Construction and water transport services




Passenger water transport




Freight water transport




Renting and leasing of water transport equipment




Marine Tourism








Note: Data for most industries are sourced from the Scottish Annual Business Survey (SABS) conducted by the UK’s Office of National Statistics. Data for fishing and aquaculture is sourced from Marine Scotland statistics.

Source: Marine Scotland (2018[14]) Scotland’s Marine Economic Statistics.

Measurements of the ocean economy tend to focus on the direct impacts associated with ocean-based industry. However, ocean-based industries may also have broader economic impacts that could be of interest to policymakers.

Indirect impacts may be generated when ocean-based industries demand and/or supply goods and services from and/or to businesses working in related industries. Furthermore, policymakers may be interested in understanding the impact that employees of ocean-based industries have when consuming goods and services from all other areas of the economy through their normal household spending patterns (so called “induced” impacts).

The process of understanding the broader economic impacts of a sector of the economy is known as economic impact assessment. An aggregation of the direct, indirect and induced impacts reveals an estimation of the total economic contribution of ocean-based industry to the overall economy. However, estimating indirect and induced impacts is a complex endeavour and such analysis remains constrained by issues of consistency and comparability. Such difficulties are compounded by the lack of appropriate industrial codes and subsequent coverage of the ocean economy in national datasets.

Table 4.4 displays the results of a recent economic impact assessment of ocean-based industries in the UK. The estimates are derived from UK national accounts data, government and industry led surveys, and industry reports. Assessments of this sort provide an informative snapshot of the value of ocean-based industry to the overall economy. A quick glance reveals that the overall impact of the UK maritime sector in 2015 generated £ 37.4 billion in aggregate global value added and employed 957 300 people, for example. One constraint is that analysis of this sort remains largely incomparable with other national datasets.

Table 4.4. Economic impact of the UK maritime sector in 2015


Direct impact

Indirect impact

Induced impact

Aggregate impact






Gross value-added










Compensation of employees





Note: The industries measured are shipping, ports, marine and maritime business sector, in GBP millions and thousands of FTE.

Source: Cebr (2017[15]) The economic contribution of the UK maritime sector.

4.2.3. Valuing marine ecosystems

Expressing the value of marine ecosystems in monetary terms, by converting robust biophysical assessments on the marine environment to a metric that is common with other economic measures, aims to raise awareness and to support better decision-making (e.g. see WWF efforts (2015[16])). Valuing marine ecosystems in a transparent and evidence-based manner may contribute to put ecosystems on a more comparable level with economic data on industry.

This includes environmental impact assessments (EIAs) or ecosystem-based management approaches, as they attempt to understand the impact of particular decisions on the marine environment, and which are likely to be made more effective, if economic measurements can be added. Valuation has indeed been shown to assist with increased awareness, improved decision making, and targeted policy responses at least in certain aspects. In Europe, for example, small-scale sustainable management strategies have been achieved through applications of accounting for the environment to maritime spatial planning (Picone et al., 2017[17]) and Marine Protected Areas (Franzese et al., 2015[18]; Franzese et al., 2017[19]). Still, converting environmental data to monetary values has attracted criticism (McCauley, 2006[20]; Schröter et al., 2014[21]), not least due to the complexity associated with understanding ecosystems sufficiently enough to track their impact on human wellbeing accurately. Valuation is therefore only one of the elements contributing to analysis of the interactions between the pillars of the ocean economy in a timely manner (Vassallo et al., 2017[22]).

The methodological context for valuing marine ecosystems

Ecosystems have been studied by natural scientists since the 1940s (Lindeman, 1942[23]), but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that the links between ecosystems and human wellbeing were formalised for the first time (Daily, 1997[24]; Costanza et al., 1997[25]). Several years later, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) developed a global scale framework for assessing the avenues through which ecosystems contribute to wellbeing (MA, 2005[26]). The MA classifies ecosystems according to differences in their biological, climatic and social characteristics (Box 4.2). From the ten ecosystem types listed, two classifications are most relevant for the ocean economy: marine ecosystems (more than 50 metres below average sea level) and coastal ecosystems (between 50 metres below and 50 metres above average sea level, or estuaries 100 kilometres inland).

Box 4.2. The conceptualisation of ecosystem service values through the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment conceptualises ecosystem services as the benefits – either “goods” or “services”, both tangible and intangible – accruing to humans from the properties of a functioning ecosystem. Ecosystem services are further classified according to whether they provide provisioning, regulating, cultural or supporting services. The first three services impact upon humans directly through, for example, the food we eat (provisioning), the air we breathe (regulating) and the seascapes we find beautiful (cultural). Supporting services impact humans indirectly and are so-called because they provide the conditions through which the other ecosystem services are produced.

The existence of a broad set of economic values associated with ecosystem services is captured through the concept of total economic value (TEV), which is disaggregated according to four key constituents:

  • Direct use value: Derived from direct human uses of ecosystems, either for consumptive (reducing quantity available e.g. eating fish) or non-consumptive (no reduction in quantity e.g. enjoying a swim in the sea) purposes. The direct value of many provisioning services, such as captured fish stocks for example, is observable, because products are traded through markets and a market price is recorded. Provisioning services represent only a subset of ecosystem services leaving many regulating and cultural services unpriced through market mechanisms.

  • Indirect use value: Derived from indirect human uses of ecosystems when their functions produce positive externalities or act as intermediate factors in production (e.g. naturally clean seawater in aquaculture fisheries).

  • Option value: Reflects the importance humans place on retaining the option of benefiting from ecosystem services in the future, or to insure against potential future losses, despite not using them today. For example, by valuing the ocean’s potential for supplying future medicines that are yet to be discovered today.

  • Non-use value: Associated with knowing that ecosystems exist despite never using their services directly. Generally, three non-use values are considered; bequest value (knowing that the ecosystem will exist for future generations), altruistic value (knowing that another person will benefit), and existence value (simply knowing that it exists).

Ecosystem services valuation is a process by which these aspects are identified, quantified and valued monetarily. As only a fraction of TEV is observable through markets, a large component of ecosystem services valuation is concerned with non-market valuation methods. Non-market valuations methodologies are not detailed in this chapter, but many publications explain the types of non-market valuation methodologies available and the circumstances in which they are appropriately applied (Hanley and Barbier, 2010[27]).

The qualitative approach has not been ineffective in communicating the value of ecosystem services to policymakers; the benefits associated with healthy ocean ecosystems are increasingly recognised globally and are included in a number of international arrangements such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14, as seen earlier (UN, 2015[28]). However, recognising the value of marine ecosystem services qualitatively does not enable the interactions of both pillars of the ocean economy to be analysed using the same unit of measurement. Since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, much research on the valuation of marine ecosystems has been conducted, and different quantitative and qualitative methodologies are available for doing so (OECD, 2018[29]).

A database of non-market valuations for marine and coastal ecosystems is kept by the National Ocean Economic Programme (NOEP) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in the USA (NOEP, 2017[30]). Torres and Hanley (2016[31]) used the database to survey valuation literature published between 2000 and 2015 (Table 4.5). The majority of the papers reviewed estimated values associated with coastal, rather than marine, ecosystem services. The authors also note a focus on valuing cultural services with a particular emphasis on recreation. This is perhaps due to greater “familiarity” among valuation researchers of coastal ecosystems and the recreational opportunities associated with them.

Despite the growing body of work attempting to value ecosystem services robustly, there is some evidence to suggest that doubts surrounding the validity of ecosystem service valuations in general have resulted in relatively limited uptake in policymaking (Rivero and Villasante, 2016[32]). This observation appears to be true also of marine and coastal policy (Torres and Hanley, 2017[33]), where, despite recent advances in methods to quantify marine ecosystem services, considerable additional research is required before data is available on the full extent of their value (Pendleton et al., 2016[34]). In light of such uncertainties, several attempts have been made to assess ecosystem services and calculate their value in a policy setting and at the national level. Some of these efforts are reviewed below.

Table 4.5. Number of papers on marine and coastal ecosystem service valuation published in peer-reviewed journals (2000-2015)

Ecosystem type

Number of papers

Coastal ecosystems






Coastal areas


Inland and transitional waters


Marine ecosystems


Coastal waters


Coral reefs


Deep sea


Marine protected areas


Both coastal and marine ecosystems




Source: Torres and Hanley (2017[33]) Communicating research on the economic valuation of coastal and marine ecosystem services. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.MARPOL.2016.10.017

National level marine ecosystem assessments

Since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) provided a basic framework for assessing ecosystem services and their value, several additional approaches have become available. These include The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) (TEEB, 2010[35]) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) (Díaz et al., 2015[36]). Although each initiative has a slightly different focus, all provide conceptual frameworks for understanding ecosystems and their contribution to human wellbeing, including through the valuation of ecosystem services.

Relying on such approaches and inspired by global assessments such as the MA, several countries have begun the process of understanding their ecosystem services better through national ecosystem assessments. In Europe, for example, knowledge of ecosystems and their services in Europe has benefited from the European Union Biodiversity Strategy 2020. Target 2 Action 5 of the strategy states that "Member States, with the assistance of the Commission, will map and assess the state of ecosystems and their services in their national territory by 2014, assess the economic value of such services, and promote the integration of these values into accounting and reporting systems at EU and national level by 2020”.

The latest national level assessment in response was completed in 2018 by France. The large study entitled “évaluation française des écosystèmes et des services écosystémiques” (EFESE) provides assessments of six ecosystem types, including marine and coastal ecosystems (Government of France, 2018[37]).

Table 4.6. National ecosystem assessments conducted by EU Member States before 2016 and objectives related to the valuation of ecosystem services









Valuation methods



Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Portuguese Assessment of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment



United Kingdom


UK National Ecosystem Assessment






Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Human Well-Being: Spanish National Ecosystem Assessment





Nature’s Benefits: On the Values of Ecosystem Services





Nature Report: State and Trend of Ecosystems and Ecosystem Services in Flanders





Indicator’s for nature’s services





Towards a Sustainable and Genuinely Green Economy: The Value and Social Significance of Ecosystem Services in Finland (TEEB for Finland)





Recommendation for the development of a national set of indicators for ecosystem services



Source: Adapted from Schröter et al. (2016[38]) National Ecosystem Assessments in Europe: A Review. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biw101.

National ecosystem assessments are complex exercises, with each assessment requiring substantial resources and tens, if not hundreds, of authors. The methodology adopted depends on the specific objectives and, often, a range of frameworks will be used (Table 4.6). Valuing ecosystem services monetarily is not always a priority. Of the eight national ecosystem assessments carried out by EU Member States before 2016, four included the “social and economic valuation of ecosystem services” among their primary objectives and another four aimed to “explore and generate adapted concepts, methods and indicators to value ecosystem services” (Schröter et al., 2016[38]). However, national ecosystem assessments play an important role in communicating the benefits of ecosystem services and valuation can be a useful component of this. There is some evidence to suggest that valuations conducted through assessments have influenced policymaking at local, national, regional and international levels (Wilson et al., 2014[39]). However, the focus of many assessments carried out so far, with the exception of those such as the French EFESE, is skewed towards terrestrial rather than marine ecosystems (Brouwer et al., 2013[40]). This suggests a gap in national level knowledge of marine ecosystem services and their value that in certain cases has been filled through alternative structures.

An example of national level estimates of ecosystem services in a context other than a national ecosystem assessment is provided by Norton, Hynes and Boyd (2018[41]). Table 4.7 details the results of an assessment of Irish marine ecosystem service values carried out on behalf of the Irish Environmental Protection Agency. In order to produce national level estimates with the time and resources available, the authors have used mainly secondary sources to arrive at their estimations. Both market and non-market valuation methodologies have been used. The list of ecosystem services does not exhaust those that flow from the marine environment in Ireland, however, with many cultural values having been excluded.

Table 4.7. Values of Irish coastal and marine ecosystem service benefits

Ecosystem Service (ES)

Value of ES per annum (EUR)

Offshore capture fisheries

472 542 000

Inshore capture fisheries

42 113 000


148 769 000

Algae/ Seaweed harvesting

3 914 000

Waste services

316 767 000

Coastal defence

11 500 000

Climate regulation

818 700 000

Recreational services

1 683 590 000

Scientific and educational services

11 500 000

Aesthetic services

68 000 000

Source: Norton, Hynes and Boyd (2018[41]) Valuing Ireland's Coastal, Marine and Estuarine Ecosystem Services.

4.2.4. Summarising the challenges

Although recent progress has occurred, some important challenges remain in producing robust measurements of the ocean economy. Many countries report difficulties in identifying relevant industries, leading to problems in disaggregating data from broader sources. A lack of specific ocean-based industry classifications has left interested parties with little choice but to estimate values using sub-optimal methods. This has resulted in approximations that are unlikely to be incomparable internationally. What’s more, ad-hoc surveys conducted to fill the gaps have led to issues with time and other data inconsistencies. Perhaps one of the most important challenges in achieving robust measurements is a willingness to fund long term data collection, particularly through a central statistical authority. Despite these challenges:

  • Measuring ocean-based industries consistently is far from insurmountable given decades of experience of valuing other forms of economic activity (including those that take place in the ocean economy).

  • Measuring the ecosystem aspect of the ocean-economy, on the other hand, runs in parallel with efforts to fundamentally change the way nations measure their economies through programmes concerned with natural capital accounting. Despite the best efforts of those involved in valuing ecosystem services, it remains a niche subject with relatively little exposure to policymakers – particularly in the marine environment. This could explain why there are still relatively few examples of national ecosystem valuation studies for marine and coastal areas. Even less attention has been paid to the valuation of ecosystem services in the deep sea. If ocean economy satellite accounts that measure both industry and the environment are to be realized, then long term funding of marine ecosystem assessments must also be achieved.

  • Beyond national ecosystem assessments, the valuation of marine ecosystem services has tended to focus on assessing the welfare impacts associated with changing ecosystems. This has been driven by legislation that requires the assessment of the environmental costs associated with development and/or by academic exploration. While it is often possible to assess at least some of the marine ecosystem services within a country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), their complexity makes developing a comprehensive assessment difficult and resource intensive. For this and many other reasons explored in this chapter, assessments tend to restrict their scope either geographically and/or by the number and types of ecosystem service studied. Frequently a small number of marine ecosystem services are selected from a specific part of a country’s waters.

4.3. Linking the ocean economy with the system of national accounts

There is a demand, from the public and private sectors alike, for a structured and internationally comparable approach to measuring the ocean economy. Building on lessons learned in other domains of economic activities, where links to the national accounts framework have contributed to ensure the emergence of improved socioeconomic data that are comparable, consistent and replicable over time, some steps can be taken for better ocean economy measurement. Examples include dedicated satellite accounts set up for special purposes such as monitoring healthcare expenditure, the state of the environment or even the development of tourism, that have been set up in many countries of the world.

The next sections introduce the system of national accounts and present arguments in favour of collecting data on the ocean economy, through satellite accounts, linking with other past and ongoing efforts in academia and national administrations (for example, Colgan (2007[42]), Kildow and McIlgorm (2010[43]) and Mcilgorm (2016[44])).

4.3.1. What are national accounts?

National accounts collect data on the economic activity of a country in a systematic manner, and are the primary means by which economies are described. The core national accounts contain economic statistics generally compiled by institutions appointed by national governments such as national statistical offices and central banks

There are two frameworks setting international standards for the compilation of national accounts. The 2008 System of National Accounts (2008 SNA) is a globally recognised reference manual, published jointly by the United Nations, the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and the World Bank. The 2008 SNA guides national statistical offices towards the creation of a national accounting database and provides a framework for reporting economic statistics. In Europe, European Union member countries are legally obligated to implement the European System of National Accounts (ESA 2010), which is, with a few minor exceptions, fully compatible with the global version.

When compiled for successive time periods, the national accounts provide a flow of information indicating the behaviour of economic agents. Ideally, the data used to compile the national accounts are collected regularly (at least annually). The more regular the data are collected, the more able the national accounts are to provide up-to-date time-series of observations of economic performance. Such time-series are used in economic policy analysis and form the basis for economic forecasting. The data collected can also contribute to estimates of causal relationships through econometric modelling; a practise that is used to inform policymaking in both public and private organisations, and at all levels of government (see Box 4.3 for examples). Finally, national accounts provide a data resource for comparing economic performance across countries using a common standard (supposing compared countries meet the 2008 SNA framework).

Box 4.3. A glance at Supply and Use Tables (SUTs) and Input-Output (I-O) tables in the ocean economy

In order to examine at a glance the production and use of goods and services in a given country or region, by industry branches and product groups, two linked statistical tables are used in national accounting: the Supply and Use Tables (SUTs) and the derived Input-Output (I-O) tables.

Supply and Use Tables are fundamental to ensuring that data collected from a wide range of sources are coherent, so that accurate measurements of Gross domestic product (GDP) can be achieved (OECD, 2017[45]). The Supply Table contains, for each product, the total supplied calculated by recording domestic output by industry plus imports. The Use Table collects, for each product, total demand or use by recording intermediate consumption (products used as inputs in the production of other goods and services) by industry, final consumption (by households and government), gross fixed capital formation or investments (including changes in inventories) and exports. In both the Supply and the Use Table, the columns are ordered by industries as classified through ISIC and the rows by products, labelled according to digit codes through systems such as the UN’s Central Product Classification (CPC).

The interconnections between industries are then made explicit by the Input-Output (I-O) tables. IO tables are created using SUTs, so if an industry doesn’t appear in the SUTs, as most ocean-based industries do not, then it won’t appear in the IO tables. Furthermore, IO tables are not always produced by national statistical offices. Often then, analysts have to create their own, leading to problems of incomparability and inconsistency. Still these tables have already been used as the basis of measurements of the indirect and induced impacts of ocean-based industry by many countries. There are several ways to do this, including through the estimation of I-O “multipliers” and other, more complex econometric modelling techniques.

As recent illustrations for the ocean economy, Grealis et al. (2017[46]) estimate the direct and indirect economic impacts of meeting targets set for aquaculture expansion in Ireland using IO analysis. Lee and Yoo (2014[47]) explore the interdependency between capture fisheries and aquaculture through IO analysis and find some interesting results, such as aquaculture having a larger impact on employment per dollar invested than capture fisheries.

The 2008 SNA is designed for, amongst others, the measurement of economic activity as defined by key indicators such as GDP, value added and employment. As a contribution to such measures, the flow of income resulting from harvesting an environmental asset is included. This means that the standard SNA framework counts environmental commodities such as captured fish stocks or extracted energy resources. But these commodities are only two examples of the goods and services that flow from the marine environment. In aggregate, environmental flows represent an important proportion of many ocean economies. What’s more, the income generated through the exploitation of an environmental resource does not account for the depletion or degradation of environmental resources that are required to “produce” them. In order to account for environmental stocks and flows more broadly, the basic structure of the SNA must be augmented to include wider effects such as the impact of economic activity on environmental assets and the value of ecosystem services.

In this context, a feature of national accounting systems is that they can be altered or extended to include specific themes that are of particular interest to a country. Accounts created in this manner are known as satellite accounts. Satellite accounts offer a robust framework for monitoring and analysing aspects of a country’s economy not shown in detail in the core national accounts. In order to maintain coherency, the formation of a satellite account would typically adopt the basic concepts and accounting rules of the core national accounting system.

Box 4.4. OECD Workshop: New Approaches to Evaluating the Ocean Economy

As part of its Innovation and the Ocean Economy work programme, the OECD STI Ocean Economy Group, in conjunction with the Centre for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, USA, organised a workshop entitled “New Approaches to Evaluating the Ocean Economy”. Held on 22 and 23 November 2017 at the OECD Headquarters in Paris, the objective of the workshop was to share national and international perspectives on progress made in measuring the ocean economy. Some 60 representatives from government, industry, academia and international organisations attended the event. The meeting represented the third in a series of colloquia on the oceans in national accounts organised by the CBE. The first took place in California, USA, in October 2015 and the second in Tianjin, China, in November 2016. The methodologies presented and constraints discussed are briefly presented in Annex 4.A below.

Satellite accounts can conceivably be compiled for any sector in which there is sufficient interest. Common examples of satellite accounts within the OECD are related to health, tourism and environmental issues. Wider examples of satellite accounts abound. France, for example, compiles satellite accounts for housing, health, social welfare, national defence, education, research and the environment (OECD, 2014[48]). Each account is compiled by a relevant agency in contact with the national statistical system. The health accounts are the responsibility of the statistical service of the Health Ministry, while the French Institute for the Environment compiles the environmental-economic accounts. The creation of a satellite account for the ocean economy could be managed along these lines, with an agency relevant to the ocean working alongside the statistical authority.

Broadly, there are two types of satellite accounts.

  • Key sector account”. In the 2008 SNA, industries are presented according to the order they appear in their respective classifications. However, alternative aggregations are possible for a group of industries operating within a sector of particular interest. One could be interested in understanding the economic performance of the high-tech manufacturing sector, for example, and aggregate data only for a range of industries in which high-tech manufacturing is used. Normally this exercise would only be carried out for sectors of particular importance to an individual economy. This type of satellite account is therefore termed a “key sector account”. The data for the key sector can then be evaluated in the context of the broader national accounts which contain the aggregated data for all other industries. An ocean economy key sector account would be possible were it not for the fact that many ocean-based activities are not recognised in current industrial classifications. An ocean key sector account built upon the present classifications would therefore miss the economic contribution of a number of important activities, hence the present need to adopt a more flexible type of satellite account such as the one presented below.

  • Broader account including benefits that do not appear in the SNA”: the international statistical community has developed further guidelines for accounting for impacts, goods and services that would not normally be counted through the core national accounts. This type of satellite account allows for greater flexibility than the “key-sector account” to include important data that would otherwise be missing from measurements of the total economy – such as data collected outside of the usual surveys used for the national accounts and environmental information. For accounts measuring environmental stocks and flows, both in physical and monetary terms, the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting 2012 - Central Framework (SEEA Central Framework) is the internationally accepted standard. The System of Environmental-Economic Accounting – Experimental Ecosystem Accounting is a framework for accounting for the concept of ecosystem services, not yet accepted as an international standard due to its experimental status.

4.3.2. A focus on the accounting approach for measuring the marine environment

The System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) Central Framework was adopted as an international standard through the United Nations Statistical Commission in March 2012 and outlines the key accounting requirements for official environmental-economic accounts.

Whereas flows from environmental stocks appear in the core 2008 System of National Accounts as income generated through the production process (e.g. when fish is captured and sold), the SEEA Central Framework extends the accounting framework to include environmental issues that are biophysical in nature (Table 4.8). The SEEA Central Framework provides guidelines for developing such accounts, while adhering to the principles outlined in the 2008 System of National Accounts and thus maintaining compatibility. There are still few examples of accounts that attempt to capture the full range of stocks and flows associated with the marine environment. However, an example of an environmental-economic account for fish stocks present in New Zealand fishing grounds is outlined below (Box 4.5).

Table 4.8. Accounts and environmental assets detailed in the SEEA Central Framework

Account type

Unit of measurement


Physical flows of natural inputs, products and residuals)

Physical only




Air emissions

Waste water

Solid waste

Stock of environmental assets (living and non-living)

Physical and monetary

Mineral and energy resources

Soil resources

Timber resources

Freshwater resources


Economic activity associated with the environment

Monetary only

Environmental protection expenditure

Resource management expenditure

Production of environmental goods and services

Environmental taxes and subsidies

Source: UN SEEA (2012[49]) System of Environmental-Economic Accounting 2012: Central Framework.

The focus of the SEEA Central Framework is on the stock of individual environmental assets and the material that flows from them (as inputs) and towards them (as residuals) in economic activity. As such, it treats each individual environmental asset as if it were separate to the others. In reality, environmental assets within similar spatial areas interact through ecosystems. Ecosystem services, which only exist if individual environmental assets function in combination, provide many benefits to humans. Much like individual environmental assets, ecosystems can be degraded by economic activity, restricting their ability to produce ecosystem services.

In order to account for the contribution of ecosystems to human wellbeing, an extension to the SEEA Central Framework has been developed – SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA-EEA). The SEEA-EEA framework details how ecosystem assets and their provisioning, regulating and cultural services can be accounted for in both physical and monetary terms. As many of their services are not exchanged through markets, observable values tend not to exist. Information in physical terms is therefore required to estimate the value of either in monetary terms. A marine area may provide provisioning services through aquaculture while being used for recreational services at the same time, for example (Box 4.5).

Box 4.5. Example of System of Environmental-Economic Accounts for the marine environment: New Zealand’s accounts for fish and the marine economy

The national statistical office of New Zealand, Stats NZ, released in 2018 a series of environmental-economic accounts containing data to 2016 (Stats NZ, 2018[50]). Accounts detailed in the release include physical stocks of land cover, timber and water, physical flows of greenhouse gas emissions, and environmental taxes and protection expenditure. The release also includes accounts detailing the monetary value of New Zealand’s fish stocks and estimates of the marine economy in GDP and employment terms.

The marine economy is defined by New Zealand as the sum of the economic activities that take place in or use the marine environment, or produce goods and services necessary for those activities, and make a direct contribution to the national economy. The “environmental activity” account measuring the marine economy details the GDP and employment generated by nine ocean-based industries: offshore minerals, fisheries and aquaculture, shipping, government and defence, marine tourism and recreation, marine services, research and education, manufacturing, and marine construction. The data developed through the marine economy account suggest a number of policy-relevant insights such as “New Zealand’s marine economy contributed NZD 3.6 billion (1.4 percent) to the national economy as measured by GDP ($255 billion). While this value represents an increase of nearly 33 percent in GDP over the period 2007 16, the proportion of GDP remained steady at about 2 percent, with a small decrease in recent years”.

The accompanying outline of Sources and methods published by Stats NZ describes many of the same challenges outlined in this chapter (Stats NZ, 2018[51]). The fish account, on the other hand, uses the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA) Central Framework as its guiding reference. The fish account shows trends in the total asset value of New Zealand’s commercial, non-aquaculture produced, fish resources broken down by individual species. The monetary estimations are based on economic data recorded through the fishing quota system. The fish account reveals that the total value of New Zealand’s commercial fish resources was NZD 7.2 billion in 2016 with the top 20 species contributing 91 percent of this value.

Several classification systems have been developed to identify, label and differentiate between the ranges of ecosystem services generated by an ecosystem asset. Some of these have been already mentioned in the previous section, and include: the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2005[26]), The Economics of Ecosystems and Biobiversity (TEEB) (TEEB, 2010[52]) and the Common International Classification for Ecosystem Services (CICES) (Haines-Young and Potschin, 2018[53]). The CICES system was developed particularly to provide ecosystem classifications for the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting guidelines and is the most appropriate classification system for accounting purposes. It has also been applied more broadly to areas not necessarily concerned with ecosystem accounting (Haines-Young, Potschin-Young and Czúcz, 2018[54]). That said, the classification of ecosystem services is particularly complicated and is likely to require further study before double-counting is eliminated (La Notte et al., 2017[55]). Finally, CICES will likely require further refinement before it is entirely suitable for the classification of marine ecosystem services (Haines-Young, Potschin-Young and Czúcz, 2018[54]; Liquete et al., 2013[56]), particularly in the deep-sea (Armstrong et al., 2012[57]).

More broadly, the existing accounts detailed in the SEEA Central Framework and Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (EEA) are suitable for many terrestrial ecosystems and some freshwater bodies, but do not cover marine ecosystems particularly well. A key issue in this regard is how to treat the spatial boundaries of marine ecosystems in order to identify the particular ecosystem services flowing from them. The focus of the current SEEA guidelines is, however, on the measurement of terrestrial ecosystems, where non-living organisms tend not to move and the majority of living organisms do not move very far (with the exception of migrating birds). Yet the interconnectedness of the ocean allows seawater and its contents to move considerably large distances. Furthermore, the ocean is much larger than the land, contains diverse ecosystems in every part of the water column – unlike the land where only a few living creatures are capable of flying beyond the surface – and is not very well mapped, within and beyond EEZs. Marine ecosystems therefore do not have rigid spatial boundaries in the same way as terrestrial ecosystems.

Box 4.6. Example of Experimental-Ecosystem Accounting for the marine environment: Australia’s experimental ecosystem account for the Great Barrier Reef

Alongside the production of statistics for economic activity and other related subjects, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has produced environmental-economic accounts of various types for at least twenty years. One area of focus for these efforts is the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef ecosystem on Earth and, perhaps, the most famous of the world’s marine ecosystems. Recently, the ABS has begun to connect a growing body of scientific work undertaken in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to environmental and macroeconomic indicators. The result is an experimental ecosystem account for the Great Barrier Reef consistent with the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts – Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA-EEA) (ABS, 2015[58]; ABS, 2017[59]).

The ABS uses the SEEA to produce accounts that measureme environmental assets, net wealth, income and resource depletion; the environmental intensity of resource use; and, production, employment and expenditure relating to environmental activities. To date, two versions of the experimental ecosystem account have been produced. In April 2015, the ABS published an “Information Paper: An Experimental Ecosystem Account for the Great Barrier Reef Region”. A second publication in 2017 extends the scope of the 2015 paper to inform a wider range of environmental-economic issues. These issues were selected to increase the public value of statistics; to demonstrably improve policy-makers’ ability to detect economic problems emerging from changes to environmental assets; and, to demonstrate the ongoing ability of SEEA-compliant environmental-economic (including ecosystem) accounts to inform policy programmes. The key benefit in this regard being that the SEEA framework ensures consistency with the core national accounts detailing economic activity in accordance with the UN’s System of National Accounts (2008 SNA).

Despite such difficulties, progress is being made. The global ocean is being mapped according to distinct ecosystem units for the first time, showing, for example, that is possible to separate ocean space according to physical and chemical properties at large scales (Sayre et al., 2017[60]). Furthermore, efforts on multiple fronts have begun to reduce the gap between coverage of terrestrial and marine ecosystems in accounting circles. The current revision process for the SEEA EEA is in part focussed on delivering guidance for the description and classification of marine ecosystems (UN SEEA, 2018[61]). At a regional level, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has contributed towards encouraging the international statistical community to progress on the statistical standards necessary for marine ecosystem accounting (UN SEEA, 2018[62]). These initiatives will contribute significantly towards the development of accounts measuring marine ecosystems.

4.3.3. Moving forward with ocean economy satellite accounts

Satellite accounts provide an organising framework for monitoring and presenting economic data that are consistent with the broader macroeconomic framework, between sectors in an economy, and over time (van de Ven, 2017[63]). Satellite accounts also enable a wide range of informative analyses for understanding the impact and contributions of a sector on all others.

The adoption of satellite accounts for the ocean economy that adhere to the appropriate accounting guidelines would provide an organised method to tackle the challenges mentioned above. Furthermore, the existence of international guidelines such as the 2008 System of National Accounts and the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting – Central Framework and extensions imply that internationally comparable measurements of the value of the ocean economy are achievable. Should a critical mass of countries develop ocean economy satellite accounts then international governance of the ocean is likely to be enhanced.

There are already good examples of national level efforts to develop ocean economy satellite accounts to be learned from. The Portuguese Satellite Account for the Seas represents an initial attempt at developing an ocean-based industry account; meeting international guidelines for national accounts more broadly and with responsibility shared between ocean experts and the national statistical office (Box 4.7). Of use to the international community, the issues met during the development of the account have been published in a methodological report (Portugal and DGMP, 2016[3]). The New Zealand marine economy “environmental activity” account and accompanying methodological note are helpful examples (Stats NZ, 2018[50]; Stats NZ, 2018[51]). So too is the “Economics: National Ocean Watch” database from the United States of America, which is publicly available and simple to use for a wide audience (NOAA, 2018[64]).

Box 4.7. Example of a satellite account for the ocean economy: Portugal’s Satellite Account for the Sea

Perhaps the most comprehensive attempt at producing a satellite account for ocean-based industry was completed by the Portuguese Government in May 2016 (Portugal and DGMP, 2016[3]). The pilot-project for a “Satellite Account for the Sea (SAS)” required collaboration between the national statistics office, Statistics Portugal (INE), and the Directorate-General for Maritime Policy (DGMP). The collaboration allowed for the statistical competences of Statistics Portugal to be aligned with DGMP’s knowledge of the ocean economy. The SAS represents the first attempt to measure the ocean economy through the national accounts of Portugal, and is the only example of a formal satellite account for the ocean economy currently available.

The creation of an SAS was considered the most appropriate instrument to estimate the contribution of the ocean economy to the whole economy. The SAS was compiled using the same accounting principles as adopted in the core national accounts (activities, classifications, criterion of residence and accounting rules), which meet the standards set by the European System of Accounts (ESA 2010) and is therefore compatible with the 2008 SNA. The objective of the SAS is to collect economic data that will:

  • Support decision making regarding the coordination of public policies for the ocean;

  • Monitor the National Ocean Strategy 2013-2020 (NOS 2013-2020) in its economic component; and,

  • Provide reliable information for the Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) and other processes where data for the Ocean Economy is required.

After a value-chain analysis of the Portuguese ocean economy, nine groups of activities were defined: fisheries, aquaculture, processing, wholesale and retail of products; non-living resources; ports, transport and logistics; recreations, sports, culture and tourism; shipbuilding, maintenance and repair; maritime equipment; infrastructures and maritime works; maritime services; and, new uses and resources of the ocean. A Supply-Use table was then built for the years 2010-2013, producing a number of variables including output, GVA, compensation of employees and employment.

The SAS results suggest the Portuguese ocean economy consists of around 60,000 establishments. On average between 2010 and 2013, their activity represented 3.1% of GVA and 3.6% of employment in the total economy. The average compensation of employees exceeded the national average by roughly 3%. While the national economy recorded a cumulative reduction in GVA of 5.4% and employment by 10%, the SAS registered increases of GVA of 2.1% for ocean-based industries, while employment decreased by only 3.4%. This suggests the ocean economy outperformed the economy as a whole between 2010 and 2013.

The information produced under the SAS is being used in a variety of policy contexts, including in marine spatial planning. The data has also been used to assess Portugal’s status with regards to meeting European Union regulations aimed at safeguarding the marine environment. Several indictors have been developed including those designed to measure Portugal’s progress with meeting its targets under the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030. At present, work is continuing to improve the regional disaggregation of the SAS so that the statistics can be used to support decision making at multiple levels.

A framework is necessary for countries wishing to move towards satellite accounting for the ocean economy. The National Accounts Division of the OECD’s Statistics and Data Directorate has developed guidance for sectoral experts wishing to pursue satellite accounts. The ten steps outlined in Box 4.8 provide an approach to the work that should be carried out when setting up a satellite account of any type. Cross referencing the steps outlined below with the limitations described above suggest the international community is still some way from formalising satellite accounts for the ocean economy, but progress can be made.

Box 4.8. The ten main steps to compiling satellite accounts
  1. 1. Define and compile data for the desired breakdown of economic activities (industries)

  2. 2. Define and compile data for the desired breakdown of products

  3. 3. Further breakdown of taxes less subsidies on products

  4. 4. Define and compile data for the desired breakdown of value added components

  5. 5. Extend the production boundary with services produced within the enterprise (e.g. in-house transport)

  6. 6. Extend the production boundary with services produced by households for own private use (if relevant)

  7. 7. Define and compile data for more details on employment

  8. 8. Define and compile data for more details on investments and capital stocks, and – if relevant – extending the asset boundary (e.g. fish stocks, ecosystems)

  9. 9. Complement the supply and use tables with physical performance and/or outcome indicators

  10. 10. Complement the supply and use tables with other physical indicators considered relevant

Source: van de Ven (2017[63]) Presentation at New Approaches to Measuring the Ocean Economy Workshop.

While the development of international statistical guidelines for ocean economy satellite accounts is likely to be the ultimate aim for all involved in measuring the ocean economy, before this can be realised the OECD will continue to assist countries as they aim to define and measure their ocean economies in a robust and internationally comparable way. In the meantime, those looking to measure the ocean economy through the national accounting system might wish to consider the following four recommendations:

  1. 1. Many countries have begun collecting data on the ocean economy either directly or via industry-led surveys. Such studies represent a good first step in the development of future accounting measures. The first recommendation is therefore to continue to support these efforts and to ensure that the results and methodologies used are distributed openly. Accumulating as much data as possible on the scope of the ocean economy within a country will provide a valuable baseline from which a more formal ocean satellite account can be built.

  2. 2. For the ocean-based industries missing from current accounting systems, arriving at data consistent with accounting values will require a range of adjustments for definition, exhaustiveness and time consistency (van de Ven, 2017[63]). This is almost certainly a process that requires expertise in the ocean economy – for knowledge on what data are available and where it can be retrieved – and expertise in national accounts – to ensure the data meets the standards set by international guidelines. Therefore, the secondary recommendation in this regard is that some resources are committed for ocean industries’ specialists to work alongside national accountants to lay the foundations for experimental satellite accounts in interested countries.

  3. 3. In parallel, countries could continue to work internationally on common basic ocean economy definitions – as in the framework of OECD workshops for example – to bridge the gap between current estimations and values suitable for future inclusion in the national accounts. Despite the shortcomings of current classification systems, there are additional steps that could be taken at the international level to assist in this area. Fundamentally, industrial classifications are required that capture all ocean-based activities and differentiate between land-based and ocean-based industries. This could be considered in the next round of revisions for ISIC at the United Nations level, should enough countries support the initiative.

  4. 4. While this chapter suggest that much progress is required before marine ecosystem accounts could be added to an ocean economy satellite account, it’s important not to lose sight of the experimental nature of ecosystem accounting at present. The Australian Great Barrier Reef example provides a good testing ground for future efforts and the information provided publicly should be studied by any organisation looking to begin accounting for marine ecosystem services in-line with the SEEA. Internationally, more efforts to experiment – and, most importantly, to share the experiences of doing so with as wide an audience as possible – would benefit the process of refining both the international accounting guidelines and ecosystem service classifications. In the meantime, not all ecosystem services valuation methodologies are compatible with national accounting frameworks. Valuations based on exchange values should therefore be considered a priority by policymakers wishing to make the transition to ocean accounts that include marine ecosystem services. Finally, emphasis should be placed on conducting baseline estimations of ecosystem coverage for physical ecosystem accounts as such studies are likely to represent the first step in developing a representative ocean economy satellite account for marine ecosystems.

4.4. Quantifying the contribution of sustained ocean observation to the ocean economy

The need to better understand the ocean, its dynamics, and its role in the global earth and climate system has led to the development of complex ocean observing systems at local, regional, national and international levels. Ocean observations encompass many types of physical, chemical, biogeochemical and biological data, most of them categorised as Essential Ocean Variables (GOOS, 2018[65]). These observations are crucial for many different scientific communities and for a wide range of public and commercial users who are active in the ocean economy (OECD, 2016[1]). But developing and sustaining ocean observations requires significant public support. As with all public investments, a thorough assessment of the associated costs and benefits of sustained ocean observations is useful to understanding their value to society.

The OECD has built upon its experience of valuing the ocean economy to study the economics of sustained ocean observations, in cooperation with the international research community and many stakeholders. At the core of this research is an extensive review of over 90 papers written on the valuation of ocean observations. The results reveal the extent of current knowledge on the economics of ocean observations, with a focus on publicly funded observations, and provide a path forward for future research in this area. More details on this research can be found in a forthcoming OECD Policy Paper (OECD, 2019[66]).

4.4.1. The crucial role of science for ocean observations

Science remains a crucial driver for most ocean observations and contributes to advancing fundamental knowledge on the ocean, weather and the climate, directly and via the critical data time series they provide which are used to drive, calibrate and verify ocean, atmospheric and climate models. Ocean observations also help describe and forecast developments of sea state, marine weather, climate and marine ecosystems in order to support scientific research, operational ocean services and political decision making at local, regional, national, multinational and global levels. The observing systems comprise fixed platforms, autonomous and drifting systems, submersible platforms, ships at sea, and remote observing systems such as satellites and aircraft, using increasingly efficient technologies and instruments to gather, store, transfer and process large volumes of ocean observation data.

Scientific communities represent one of the most important end users (around 80%) of data centres that provide ocean observation data, products and services, according to the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (Figure 4.1). National co-ordinators for data management, marine information management, and associate data unit contact points were surveyed in 2016 in the framework of the International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) Programme. The general public represents also a top user category. However, there are no detailed data sets at national or regional levels to capture the evolution of users of ocean observation data; in terms of their numbers, their disciplines, the frequency of their observation data usage and the activities they conduct (e.g. for researchers, ad hoc studies or long-term assessments relying on continuous data time series) (IOC, 2017[67]).

Figure 4.1. Users of ocean observations data, products or services, as provided by oceanographic data centres

Source: IOC (2017[67]), Global Ocean Science Report: The Current Status of Ocean Science Around the World, UNESCO /IOC, Paris.

Many of the benefits associated with improved science are not readily associated with economic value, partly because they do not flow through markets and do not generate economic benefits in and of themselves. For this reason, the literature has often considered ocean observations data to be a public good, the benefits of which are difficult to identify and value. Despite the relative complexity of valuing social benefits, a number of recent studies have used a range of methodologies to do so. Further valuation of social benefits is of particular importance to undertaking a thorough assessment of the value of ocean observing systems and is of crucial importance to any future overall economic assessment.

4.4.2. Mapping the applications and types of users of ocean observations

Ocean observations data, and their derived products and services, have a very large range of applications, beyond their contribution to science, serving very diverse public missions, and commercial undertaking in a wide range of sectors.

Many current ocean observing initiatives aim to serve all these diverse applications and end-users’ communities. For example, the focus of the AtlantOS (a European Union H2020 Research and Innovation project that began in April 2015 with more than 60 partners across the Atlantic) is to design a multiplatform, multidisciplinary Atlantic-wide system, so that data collected by the observing platforms can be used for many different observing objectives (AtlantOS, 2018[68]).

When examining different ocean economy sectors, ocean observations find their way indeed in very different domains (Table 4.9). The maritime shipping sector relies for example traditionally on sea state forecasts. In offshore oil and gas exploration and production, different activities such as exploration, platform’s location choice, engineering design and set-up, production and decommissioning require different products and services including wind, wave, current and bathymetric information. In some cases, past experiences can be transferred from one industry to another. The offshore aquaculture sector benefits from lessons learnt in the offshore oil and gas industry with respect to engineering design and marine construction (Rayner, 2018[69]). In contrast, some emerging industries like marine renewable energy production need new types of products and services on salinity gradients, resource and temperature, in addition to information on wave, wind and currents (Gruet, 2018[70]).

Table 4.9. Selected domains of applications of ocean observations



Transport (excluding military)

Shipping operations, hovercraft operations, hydrofoil operations, submersible or submarine operations, remotely operated vehicles, tunnel subsea operations, barrage roads, causeway, bridges, sea channels, navigational safety, lights, electronic charts, safety services, rescue, life preserving, fire, port operations

Energy production

Oil and gas production, oil and gas exploration and prospecting and drilling services, ocean thermal energy conversion, wave energy, tidal energy, wind energy, offshore installations

Environmental protection and preservation

Clean beaches, oil pollution control, non-oil pollution control, estuarine pollution, health hazards, marine reserves, species protection, environmental forecasts, flood protection, safe waste disposal, amenity evaluation, environmental quality control, environmental data services

Mineral extraction

Aggregate, sand, gravel, deep ocean, manganese nodules, hydrothermal muds, crusts, placer minerals, diamonds, tin, salt extraction, magnesia, bromine, desalination, phosphate, coal, subsea

Food from the sea

Fisheries, catching, fish farming, shellfisheries, shellfish and crustaceans farming, fishing gear


Military vessels, surface and submarine, anti-submarine warfare, oceanographic applications, underwater weapons, navigation, position fixing, defence sales equipment, components, operations and efficiency, logistics, controls, computing

Building, construction and engineering

Coastal defences, port construction, dredging, land reclamation, dam construction, tunnel construction, outfalls/intakes, consulting engineering, components, hydraulics, motors, pumps, batteries, cables, manufacture and operations, laying, corrosion prevention, paint, antifouling, heavy lifting, cranes, winches, marine propulsion, efficient ship, automatic ships, props, offshore construction, platforms, pipe-laying, trenching, burial, ship-building (non-defence, all kinds)


Certification, climate forecasting, data consultancy, data services, data transmission, telecommunications, diving including suppliers, inspection, maintenance, repair, insurance, meteorology and oceanography surveys, mapping, hydrographic surveys, project management, non-defence, consultancy, remote sensing, salvage, towing, ship routing, weather forecasting

Equipment sales

Marine electronics, instruments, radar, optoelectronics, sonar, buoys, etc.

Tourism and recreation

Fishing, boating, beaching

Basic and strategic research

Acoustics, electronics, civil engineering, climate change, climate forecasting, coastal modelling, data centre, environmental sciences, estuarine modelling, fisheries, marine biology, marine weather forecasting, ocean modelling, oceanography, polar research, remote sensing, shelf seas modelling, shipping and naval architecture


Agriculture, land-use planning or zoning, urban management, local government, wetlands management, public health

Source: Adapted from Flemming (2001[71]), “Dividends from investing in ocean observations: a European perspective”, Observing the Oceans in the 21st Century, GODAE Project Office/Bureau of Meteorology, Melbourne, Australia.

Ocean observations and many related products and services tend to be made available via open online data platforms that are free and easy to access, often without registration. Examples of open data platforms for ocean observations include the Australian Open Data Network (AODN), the European Union Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS), the European Marine Data Observation Network (EMODnet), the US Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), the Pan-European Infrastructure for Ocean and Marine Data Management (SeaDataNet) and the UNESCO-IOC Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). The IOC International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange program (IODE) integrates at international levels archives and assesses the quality of millions of ocean observations in over 80 oceanographic data centres.

Effortless access to data reduces the frictional costs associated with downloading and using the data, potentially increasing use and maximising the associated benefits. However, it is not without consequence. One such issue is that, while the volume of data downloaded is known, the type of user and the final use of the data are, in most cases, unknown. This is a substantial barrier to the identification of the benefits associated with the data and may impede efforts to ensure sustainable funding streams. Few open data platforms track or plan to track downloads of data sets from their portals, with very limited registration hurdles. But when they do measure downloads, it brings valuable information on the types of user groups and the activities they conduct with different kinds of ocean observations (Box 4.9).

Box 4.9. Two examples of ocean observations data platforms measuring the frequency of their user groups’ access to their portals: EMODnet and CMEMS

The European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet) is a long-term marine data initiative of the European Union, started in 2009. Over 150 organisations co-operate to assemble and provide marine data, metadata, and products and services to the data network. EMODnet has seven thematic data portals providing access to bathymetric, biological, chemical, geological, human activities, physical and seabed habitat data. The data of each portal are freely and publicly available. EMODnet has been measuring access to each of its data portals since 2015, and has seen increases in downloads, particularly on its physics portal (+140%) and human activities portal (+60%). EMODnet documents cases where data are used for specific applications or projects. These use cases indicate the demand for ocean observations as well as the variety of uses. In May 2018, a first user survey was launched to collect information on users and their downloads in more detail. Results of this survey are forthcoming.

The Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS) is the operational Marine Service of the European Union delivered in the frame of the European Union programme COPERNICUS. It is operated by the non-profit company Mercator Ocean International since 2015, a multinational ocean analysis and forecasting centre providing expert service that covers all of the world’s oceans. The CMEMS provides regular and systematic core reference information on the physical and biogeochemical state of the ocean, with 150 oceanographic products and services (observations and models) based on in-situ and satellite data as well as expert information, (e.g. The Ocean State Reports). CMEMS has a strong focus on intermediate users who produce their own downstream products and services for the end-user market. Intermediate users can be found in universities, business and private companies, public services, associations and foundations. As part of providing better services to its user groups, CMES has a registration process where users are asked to indicate their organisation’s type, the main objective for using the CMEMS products and services, and the area of benefits to which their work contributes. Data collected through the registration procedure allows conclusions to be drawn on the distribution of user groups and their demand for and use of CMEMS products and services. As of March 2018, the CMEMS had 12 700 subscribers with roughly 8 400 active subscribers over the rolling year, i.e. subscribers that downloaded data at least once in the year. The number of subscribers more than doubled in a year, up from 6 000 subscribers in 2015. Around 200 to 300 new subscribers register on line on the CMEMS website per month on average.

Source: Original aggregated information on users of ocean observations kindly provided by Mercator Ocean International and by the European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet).

The potential match between providers of ocean observations data, products and services and user groups is also crucial issue. Operational users often prefer products and services tailored to their specific needs. Publicly available data do not necessarily match these requirements, due, for example, to different spatial or temporal resolutions. In addition, often end users do not have the capacity or skills to convert the raw data into the products they need. Thus, even if data are publicly available, they might not be used to their full potential.

In the United States, major customers of products and services from the ocean measurement, observation and forecasting sector include scientific researchers, marine industries such as offshore oil and gas production, ports, commercial shipping, and fisheries and aquaculture. This is a finding of a survey conducted for the US Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (US IOOS and NOAA, 2016[72]). The purpose of this study was to identify the companies and estimate the revenue generated by these companies in the US ocean measurement, observation and forecasting sector, which serve as either providers of observing system technology or intermediaries delivering value added data products to end-users. The study did not attempt to measure the benefits derived by end-users, although it sought to identify the ocean observations used by intermediary firms to enhance or create a product or service (Rayner, Gouldman and Willis, 2018[73]). In that context, around 59% of the surveyed US intermediary firms use marine in-situ data, with the most often used type including physical oceanographic data (48%), followed by bathymetric data (34%) and geophysical data (26%). Around 41% of surveyed US intermediary firms use also remotely sensed data. The most often used remotely sensed data types were shore observations (33%) and satellite observations (33%), followed by aircraft observations (19%).

4.4.3. Economic and societal benefits from ocean observations

Economic and societal benefits underpinned by ocean observations, measurements and forecasts are thought to be large. However, they are difficult to quantify. There have been no comprehensive global attempts to describe and quantify these benefits, although numerous case studies have sought to understand and quantify socioeconomic benefits associated with use of ocean data in support of specific ocean uses or regulatory measures. In aggregate, the cost of obtaining and using ocean observations is almost certainly only a small percentage of the value of the benefits derived.

There are a wide diversity of operational products and services based on sustained ocean observations. Based on the OECD literature review of ocean observations’ valuation studies, weather forecasts (36%), sea state forecasts (21%), and climate forecasts (7%) are the products and services most taken up for operational use. Some of the traditional operational user groups include navies and coastguards, offshore oil and gas industry, commercial shipping fisheries and aquaculture. User domains benefiting from ocean observations and covered the most by the literature do not paradoxically mirror the distribution of these traditional user groups, some of which identified with some details in Table 4.9. This is because much of the work on quantifying these areas exists only in the ‘grey’ literature rather than as peer-reviewed material.

The socio-economic assessments conducted so far and providing some valuation of the uses of ocean observations, consider primarily aquaculture and fisheries (13%); agriculture (9%); environmental management (8%); tourism and cruises (8%); pollution and oil spills (8%); military, search and rescue (8%); and commercial shipping and maritime transport (8%).

Figure 4.2. Selected operational user domains benefiting from sustained ocean observations
As a percentage of occurrences in the reviewed literature

Source: OECD (2019[66]), Valuing Sustained Ocean Observations, OECD Science, Technology and Industry Policy Papers (forthcoming).

These benefits can be divided in three main categories:

  • Direct economic benefits are the revenues associated with the sale of information products derived, in whole or in part, from ocean observations. For example, the sale of sea surface temperature products used by the commercial and sport fishing industries to aid in the location of target fish species. Many of these commercial products are based in part on free data made available by publicly funded open data platforms. This direct economic benefits category is relatively straightforward, but the statistics needed to conduct the assessment are generally quite scarce. Commercial revenues from selling products or services based directly on ocean observations are not often taken into account in impact assessment;

  • A second category comprises indirect economic benefits. These are accrued when an end-user derives an indirect benefit from purchase of an information product or service resulting in whole or in part from ocean observations (e.g. better ship routes as a result of accurate weather forecasts, valued, for example, by reduced fuel costs as a result of avoiding bad weather). The indirect economic benefits follow gains in efficiency or productivity from using improved ocean observations. This category is the most represented in the literature with cost savings (30%), cost avoidance (15%) and increased revenues (14%) as the three most frequent types of benefits cited in the studies.

  • Finally, societal benefits are received by society in general in ways that are often easier to identify than to quantify (e.g. improved ocean governance, environmental management or better understanding of the impacts of climate change valued, for example, by estimation of the avoided costs associated with mitigation). The most frequent types of societal benefits are improved environmental management (10%), lives saved (7%) and improved forecasting (6%).

These different types of benefits can be assessed with qualitative or quantitative measures. In the literature reviewed, two-thirds of benefits are assessed quantitatively.

4.4.4. The next steps in valuing sustained ocean observations

A thorough assessment of the value of ocean observations requires further effort in identifying and understanding the different communities of intermediate and end-users, their use of ocean observations and the associated benefits, based on common standards for the evaluation process. While ongoing efforts are to be commended and recent progress has been made on mapping operational user communities, this research reveals that (as for scientific users), data on intermediate and end-users are usually not collected. This lack of basic data collection is sometimes motivated by different interpretations of open data policies. A more thorough and detailed analysis of dedicated value chains could contribute to more robust valuation of socio-economic benefits.

Quantifying socio-economic benefits will bring a stronger argument, in addition to the scientific benefits – for the sustainability and improvement of ocean observations. The following steps could contribute to this undertaking:

  • Tracking the users and mapping value chains: Increased efforts among providers of ocean observations to track user groups, their downloads and use of the data would help identify associated marketable and social values. This would involve improved identification and mapping of end-users, whether they are scientific or operational. Dedicated surveys of end-users of ocean observations could be a useful tool to gather characterisations of users, the products and services they require, and the benefits they realise by using ocean observation. These surveys could be conducted in co-operation with open data platforms, such as the Australian Open Data Network, CMEMS, EMODnet or NOAA IOOS, with their user base as the target group. A more thorough and detailed analysis of dedicated value chains for some of the main products and services derived from ocean observations could also contribute to a more robust valuation of socio-economic benefits. There are very useful efforts underway at national and international levels (e.g. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Global Ocean Observing System), but there are still some overlooked sectors as revealed in this literature review. Convening an expert meeting specifically on lessons learnt from mapping user groups at different levels of value chains would be very useful for the ocean observing community.

  • Advancing methodologies: The studies differ considerably in spatial and temporal scope, methodology used, and user domain considered. The ocean observation community would benefit from international standards or guidelines for the Valuation of ocean observations. This would simplify the comparison of different studies and allow the aggregation of results. There are several general challenges when assessing the benefits of ocean observations, e.g. the public good character of many ocean observations, complex value chains and taking stock of a variety of stakeholders. Comparing the results of individual studies can be complicated by varying temporal, sectoral and spatial scales applied in the assessments. Improvements in methodologies are, however, possible. The weather and the environment policy communities have both tested and paved the way for useful and proven value of information techniques that may be applicable to ocean observations. A holistic socio-economic valuation of ocean observations needs to account for marine environment, ecosystems and their associated services. Valuing the environment is still challenging even though some tools and methodologies exist which could contribute to the discussions (OECD, 2018[29]).

  • Expanding the international knowledge base: This exercise on ocean observations is a starting point for sharing the international knowledge base with the community. Expanding the known literature and making it ever more inclusive would constitute a natural next step, since based on discussions with different stakeholders, more substance could be included. This would involve an even more international coverage (e.g. considering recent studies from Asia and Latin America) and the inclusion of further work on the valuation of social benefits, based in part on existing OECD streams of activities on the links between sustained scientific investments and economic growth. There is a real potential to improve the knowledge base on the value of ocean observations, with the objective to provide robust evidence-based information to decision makers and funding bodies.

Annex 4.A. Ocean economic activities and international classifications

Basics about classifications and ocean-based industries

National statistical offices collect data on economic activities according to systematic digit codes. The codes enable economic data to be labelled by the sector of the economy in which the activity takes place, the fishing industry or the oil and gas sector, for example. The internationally accepted reference for industries is the International Standard Industrial Classification of all Economic Activities (ISIC).

The latest version, ISIC Revision Four (Rev. 4), was released by the United Nations Statistics Commission in 2008, and is the reference classification for industries in the 2008 System of National Account (SNA). Countries providing data according to ISIC ensure the data are comparable with other countries who use ISIC, or whose classification is derived from or related to ISIC. The General Industrial Classification of Economic Activities within the European Communities (NACE) Revision 2, for example, is derived from ISIC Rev. 4 but contains additional activities important in the European context. Similarly, the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC) is aligned with ISIC Rev. 4. The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), while different in structure, is related to ISIC Rev. 4 and maintains comparability at broad levels of aggregation.

All of the national level methodologies for measuring the ocean economy begin by looking to data collected through the existing national statistical system (see Annex 4.B for more information on national level methodologies). At the core of national accounts compiled according to the 2008 SNA are observations of economic activity based on combining source data collected through official surveys, administrative data, censuses, etc. Data compiled in national accounts frameworks following the 2008 SNA guidelines meet the desirable properties of ocean economy data outlined in this chapter: comparability, consistency and replicability.

Although it would be impossible to create a code for every possible activity taking place within an economy, all industry classifications used by national statistical offices have a particular structure that splits the economy into increasingly detailed groupings. The total economy according to ISIC Rev. 4 categorisation consists of 21 Sections which are labelled using a letter from A to U (see Annex Table 4.A.1). Each level beyond the 21 Sections disaggregates the previous, with each Section being further detailed into a number of Divisions which are represented by a two-digit code. There are 99 Divisions in total. Divisions are split into Groups (three-digit code), of which there are 238. Groups are split finally into 419 Classes (four-digit code). The Sections therefore represent the highest level aggregation after the total economy, while Classes – commonly referred to as a “four-digit ISIC code” – are the most detailed level aggregation. All categories at each level are mutually exclusive of each other to avoid double counting.

Annex Table 4.A.1. Broad categories of industries classified in ISIC Rev. 4




Agriculture, forestry and fishing


Mining and quarrying




Electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply


Water supply; sewerage, waste management and remediation




Wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles


Transportation and storage


Accommodation and food service activities


Information and communication


Financial and insurance activities


Real estate activities


Professional, scientific and technical activities


Administrative and support service activities


Public administration and defence; compulsory social security




Human health and social work activities


Arts, entertainment and recreation


Other service activities


Activities of households as employers; undifferentiated goods- and

services-producing activities of households for own use


Activities of extraterritorial organizations and bodies

Source: UNSD (2008[74]) International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC): Revision 4.

Using current industrial classifications

The first stage in many of the ocean economy measurements is to decide upon the scope of ocean-based industries involved so that the types of economic activities conducted can be identified and the relevant industrial classification referred to for appropriate codes.

The existence of codes matching ocean-based industries should in theory enable economic data to be sourced from official tables produced by the requisite statistical office. Such data would provide a robust measurement of direct value that, assuming the statistical office adheres to the guidelines of the 2008 SNA, would be accepted as internationally comparable. For illustrative purposes, Annex Table 4.A.2 gives the OECD classifications of ocean-based industries from the Ocean Economy in 2030 report. An analyst would therefore check for the existence of industrial codes that match these industries.

Annex Table 4.A.2. Selected ocean-based industries

Established industries

Emerging industries

Capture fisheries

Marine aquaculture

Seafood processing

Deep- and ultra-deep water oil and gas


Offshore wind energy


Ocean renewable energy

Shipbuilding and repair

Marine and seabed mining

Offshore oil and gas (shallow water)

Maritime safety and surveillance

Marine manufacturing and construction

Marine biotechnology

Maritime and coastal tourism

High-tech marine products and services

Marine business services

Marine R&D and education


Source: OECD (2016[1]) The Ocean Economy in 2030 https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264251724-en

Ocean-based industries with fully concordant ISIC Rev. 4 codes

Mapping the OECD ocean-based industries onto industrial activities defined in ISIC Rev. 4 reveals a number of limitations to using national accounts data. The obvious problem with using data labelled by such codes is that they are only fully concordant with three of the OECD ocean-based industries given in Annex Table 4.A.2.

Annex Table 4.A.3 gives the full ISIC classifications for industries for which ISIC codes exist. The remaining industries are unrepresented at any level of detail. A further consideration is that, even among the three industries listed below, the level of detail required to separate ocean-based industries from land-based equivalents only occurs at the four-digit level (i.e. the most detailed aggregation).

For example, capture fisheries could be measured using the fully concordant four-digit code “0311: Marine fishing”. The Class “Marine fishing” belongs to the Group (three-digit code) “031: Fishing”, which also includes the four-digit code “0312: Freshwater fishing”. The Group “Fishing” belongs in turn to the Division (two-digit code) “03: Fishing and aquaculture”, which also includes Group “032: Aquaculture” containing both “0321: Marine aquaculture” and “0322: Freshwater aquaculture”. Finally, the Division “Fishing and aquaculture” sits within Section “A: Agriculture, forestry and fishing”. The Section “Agriculture, forestry and fishing” contains two additional Divisions, eleven additional Groups and 34 additional Classes, all of which are directly unrelated to ocean-based industry.

The example above illustrates a key problem for measuring even fully concordant ocean-based industries; national statistics offices must present data at a level of aggregation detailed enough so that ocean-based industries are split from their land-based alternatives. Using three-digit codes to measure capture fisheries would result in the inclusion of data on freshwater fishing. At the two-digit level, it would include marine and freshwater aquaculture. And at the Section level, it would include a vast array of industries in the agriculture and forestry sectors. Clearly only the four digit code presents an appropriate metric for directly measuring the value associated with the ocean-based industry in question.

Unfortunately, many countries do not present accounts for the most detailed levels of classifications on a regular basis. Instead, summary accounts based usually at the Section level, two-digit and occasionally three-digit level, are derived annually. The United States, for example, collects annual data aggregated to a level that includes only 71 defined industries. The most detailed level of aggregation, which includes 389 industries (the “benchmark” census), was last compiled in 2007. The same is true when countries provide data from their national accounts for international databases. The OECD receives national accounts data from most-OECD countries for 56 industry aggregations (van de Ven, 2017[63]). The OECD’s Database for Structural Analysis (OECD STAN), for example, presents data mainly at ISIC Rev. 4 two-digit level with only some detail provided to three digit-level.

Annex Table 4.A.3. Ocean-based industries with fully concordant ISIC Rev. 4 codes

OECD Industry





Capture fisheries





Agriculture, forestry and fishing

Fishing and aquaculture


Marine fishing

Marine aquaculture






Agriculture, forestry and fishing

Fishing and aquaculture


Marine aquaculture







Transportation and storage

Water transport

Sea and coastal water transport

Sea and coastal passenger water transport





Transportation and storage

Water transport

Sea and coastal water transport

Sea and coastal freight water transport

Source: UNSD (2008[74]) International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC) Revision 4.

Ocean-based industries with partially concordant ISIC Rev. 4 codes

Of the 19 OECD ocean-based industries listed in Annex Table 4.A.2, only four have fully concordant four-digit codes.

For the remaining 15 industries, the four-digit ISIC code either excludes data that could be an important contributor to an ocean-based industry; contains data from areas other than the ocean; and/or, gives no indication as to whether the classified activity is ocean- or land-based. Consider the classification for the OECD industry “Seafood processing”. The most appropriate ISIC Rev. 4 code is “1020: Processing and preserving of fish, crustaceans and molluscs”. However, no distinction between freshwater fish and marine fish is made. The value of seafood processing could therefore be overestimated using this code unless some additional calculations are made.

Where the aggregates presented by national statistical offices do not provide enough detail to isolate ocean-based industries, analysts may choose to return to the original micro-data used to build those aggregates. Combining business-level data with information in business registers may allow for certain indicators of size to be built by statistical offices. Such methodologies are, however, resource intensive and require access to data that are not always publicly available. The US, for instance, does not include firm-level data where they are likely to give away information about, and damage the competitiveness of, individual firms (Colgan, 2013[75]).

Annex Table 4.A.4. ISIC Rev. 4 codes related to seafood processing

OECD Industry





Seafood processing







Manufacture of food products

Processing and preserving of fish, crustaceans and molluscs

Processing and preserving of fish, crustaceans and molluscs






Manufacture of food products

Manufacture of vegetable and animal oils and fats

Manufacture of vegetable and animal oils and fats






Manufacture of food products

Manufacture of other food products

Manufacture of prepared meals and dishes






Manufacture of food products

Manufacture of other food products

Manufacture of other food products n.e.c.

Source: UNSD (2008[74]) International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC): Revision 4.

Given the resource requirements and legal barriers to re-estimating national accounts aggregates, analysts most often estimate GVA and employment using data sourced from elsewhere. The contributions of these industries’ can be modelled through proxies and/or econometric techniques. Or data from industry publications can be used to project the relative share of the industry that is ocean-based, for example. Remaining with the “Seafood processing” industry, if data are available on the number of firms processing seafood as opposed to freshwater fish, then the proportion of seafood to freshwater establishments could be applied to the value given under code 1020.

Box 4.A.1 explains how measurements for some industries not suitably covered by industrial codes were estimated using proxies in the OECD’s ocean economy database. Alternatively, ad-hoc surveys designed specifically for the purpose of supplementing official data could be commissioned. The national-level measurements outlined in Annex 4.B apply similar methodologies to these.

Annex Box 4.A.1. The OECD ocean economy database

The ocean economy database was originally created with the aim to assess selected ocean industries in a given year (2010 was the year for which there were the most data available at the time) and then project these data to 2030. A thorough review of relevant industries for which datasets existed was conducted.

As a baseline, ISIC Rev. 3 was used as it included at the time a larger number of countries and industry datasets than ISIC Rev. 4, at the start of the project in 2013 (since then, more countries have adopted ISIC Rev. 4 and have aimed to reclassify datasets). Using ISIC codes has two main limitations: 1) ISIC codes often include non-ocean-based activities (e.g. fisheries captures both land- and sea-based activities), and 2) ISIC codes do not exist for every ocean-based industry. Given these limitations, the OECD ocean economy database contains data on the Gross Value-Added (GVA) and employment in ocean-based industries split into three groups according to broad definitions of data availability. The selected industries fall into three groups, based on data availability.

Group One: Ocean-based industries included in ISIC Rev. 3 for which official data is readily available

Group One includes industrial fish processing, fisheries, shipbuilding and repair, and maritime transport. Data for this set of industry ISIC codes is available in many official databases with two main advantages. First, the data are comparable and relatively consistent across countries. Second, data sources contain values for a sufficient number of countries in order to obtain a realistic approximation of the global value, especially when supplemented by data from other official sources.

Group Two: Ocean-based industries included in ISIC Rev. 3 for which official data is limited

Group Two of the ocean-based industries includes industries defined in ISIC Rev. 3 but where publicly available data does not meet consistency criteria. These are maritime and coastal tourism, port activities, education and research, and offshore oil and gas. Estimations of GVA and employment are therefore less straightforward than in Group One and require the use of proxy values. With regards to marine and coastal tourism, the measurement of the tourism industry has benefited significantly from international efforts to develop an appropriate statistical system. These efforts include the publication of a recommended methodological framework for tourism satellite accounts (OECD; European Union; United Nations; World Tourism Organization, 2010[76]). The OECD’s ocean economy database suggests that, in 2010, marine and coastal tourism was the second largest ocean-based industry after the oil and gas sector in terms of GVA and the second largest after capture fisheries in terms of employment. The codes suggested for use in the tourism satellite account are presented in the aforementioned report. Aggregating the data collected under these codes provides a robust measurement of the overall tourism economy, but gives little indication of the contribution of marine and coastal tourism to the total. In order to isolate their contribution, countries have tended to rely on arbitrary ratios to split marine and coastal from all other tourism and/or geographical limits that assume all tourism taking place in coastal zones can be attributed to the ocean economy. This poses the same challenges to consistency and comparability.

Group Three: Ocean-based industries not defined by ISIC Rev. 3 and without any available data

The third group includes the industries listed that are not defined by ISIC Rev. 3 and for which primary official data at global level are not available. Estimates are conducted using a variety of reports from national governments, international organisations and industry associations. Proxies are necessarily constructed for this group, which includes maritime equipment, industrial marine aquaculture, and offshore wind energy.

Annex 4.B. Selected national and regional-level ocean economy measurements

The following sections summarise selected national and regional-level measurements of the ocean economy, including recent estimates, methodologies used and in some cases ongoing efforts to measure ocean-based industry and marine ecosystems. In addition to extensive desk-based research and consultations conducted by the OECD Secretariat, a dedicated workshop was held at the OECD in Paris in November 2017 (see Box 4.4 for more information on the workshop).


The Statistics Department of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans estimates the value of Canadian ocean-based industries annually using a methodology outlined in a 2009 publication (DFO, 2009[77]). The data are sourced from the Canadian national accounts and, where data gaps exist, are supplemented with government and industry led surveys. The results are presented in terms of contribution to GDP, household income and employment, at national and regional level. In addition, an input-output model has been used to estimate the broader impacts of ocean-based activity in multiple private industries and of spending by public bodies concerned with the oceans. The results of this analysis are presented in Annex Table 4.B.1.

A key constraint for the measurement of the Canadian ocean economy is the lack of a suitable methodology for the subsistence economy in Arctic regions, which is based on both cash and non-cash transactions (Ali, 2017[78]). Non-cash items, such as hunted seals, are shared among the community, rather than sold, leaving them unpriced and particularly difficult to measure using typical national statistical methodologies, although they have strong importance to the livelihoods and wellbeing of the population.

Annex Table 4.B.1. GDP and employment in Canada’s “ocean economic activities” (2009-2012), in CAD and FTE














Private Sector


















Offshore oil & gas


















Tourism & recreation









Manufacturing & construction









Sub-total private sector









Public sector









National Defence


















Sub-total public sector









Total Marine Economy









Source: Ali (2017[78]) Canada’s Experience Measuring the Ocean Economy, presentation at OECD Workshop: New Approaches to Evaluating the Ocean Economy, 22 & 23 November 2017.


China began developing a statistical system for measuring the ocean economy in the late 1980s (Song, He and McIlgorm, 2013[79]). By 2006, the Ocean Economy Accounting System (OEAS) of China was established in order to provide an agreed methodology for estimating China’s Gross Ocean Product (GOP) – essentially direct GVA of ocean-based industries. The OEAS contains several accounts including a Principle Account for measurements of ocean-based industry that are used to calculate GOP. Three other accounts include those suitable for producing input-output tables and measures of natural capital (Zhao, Hynes and Shun He, 2014[80]). The National Marine Data and Information Service of China has overseen the development of the OEAS and is responsible for producing the data required for a number of ocean economy publications including the annual China Marine Economic Statistical Bulletin. The latest statistical bulletin, from 2016, estimates that China’s national GOP was USD 1,061.5 billion in 2015. This is equal to 9.5% of 2015 total economy GDP and represents a 6.8% increase from 2014 (Wang, 2017[81]).

China’s ocean-based industries are classified by a statistical standard released by the State Oceanic Administration in 2006. The Industrial Classification for Ocean Industries and Their Related Activities is aligned with the internationally recognised ISIC Rev.4 (Song, He and McIlgorm, 2013[79]). However, the ocean-based industry classifications do not necessarily align with the classifications used by the National Bureau of Statistics of China (Zhao, Hynes and Shun He, 2014[80]). Additional surveys must therefore be relied upon in order to collect data for the missing industries so that the entire ocean economy is measurable. Annex Table 4.B.2 gives the breakdown of 2010 GOP by ocean-based industry using this approach (Zhao, Hynes and Shun He, 2014[80]).

Annex Table 4.B.2. Gross value added and employment in China’s “ocean economy” in 2010

Ocean sectors

Gross value added (USD billions)

Employment (10,000 persons)

Marine fishery



Offshore oil and gas



Ocean mining



Marine salt






Marine chemicals



Marine biomedicine



Marine engineering and building



Marine electric power



Seawater utilization



Marine communications and transport



Coastal tourism






Source: Zhao, Hynes and Shun H (2014[80]) Defining and quantifying China's ocean economy. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2013.05.008


The Danish Maritime Authority publishes annually a range of statistics for the Danish ocean economy, known as Blue Denmark (Schrøder Bech, 2017[82]). The analysis considers employment, production, productivity, education level and place of domicile of the labour force among others, for both direct and indirect economic activity. The latest publication reveals that 59 692 people were directly employed (94 600 if indirect employment is counted) and DKK 83 billion in gross-value added (GVA) was produced in 2016 (ECLM, 2017[83]). This corresponds to 2.2% and 4.6% of the respective direct figures for the total economy. The collection of such statistics over time enables trends to be highlighted. For example, direct employment decreased by 12 446 between 2006 and 2016, while indirect employment increased by 3 000.

Many of the difficulties associated with measuring the economic activity of the Danish ocean economy are outlined in a 2003 paper (Sornn-Friese, 2003[84]). One difficulty highlighted is that data are only available through Statistics Denmark, the national statistical office, for a proportion of ocean-based industries. Where official data is missing, proxy values are estimated. To better understand the performance of the offshore sector, Statistics Denmark recently conducted a “calibration” survey that delimited offshore activities from land-based activities in the oil, gas and renewable energy sectors (Schrøder Bech, 2017[82]). The calibration revealed substantial differences with the data estimated through the existing statistical framework, with the official sources underestimating the value of the Danish ocean economy both in terms of value-added and employment, and direct and indirect impacts. In addition, innovation in the ocean economy is reported to be exceeding that in the total economy as measured by the number of companies applying for patents. However, the survey was a one-time occurrence and no annual figures are being produced (Schrøder Bech, 2017[82]).

Annex Table 4.B.3. Employment and production in “Blue Denmark” (2014-2016)







Direct only




Direct + indirect




Production (DKK billions)









Source: ECLM (2015[85]) Employment and production in Blue Denmark 2015, ECLM (2016[86]) Employment and production in Blue Denmark 2016 and ECLM (2017[83]) Employment and production in Blue Denmark 2017.

European Commission

The Joint Research Centre of the European Commission publishes economic data on a number of ocean-industry related fields such as fishing fleets, aquaculture and fish processing on its website. In addition to these data series, a recent report estimated the size of the ocean economy in the 28 European Union (EU) Member States (European Commission, 2018[87]). The sectors measured include those that are well established in EU countries: Living resources, marine extraction of oil and gas, ports, warehousing and water projects, maritime transport, shipbuilding and repair, and coastal tourism. Economic data are taken from national accounts compiled by Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU. Where ocean-based industries are not well represented by industry codes, several assumptions on their contribution are made (in most cases it is assumed that 100% of the value associated with an industry can be attributed to the ocean). In addition, several emerging industries are considered and recent trends in their performance discussed qualitatively. These include: Marine renewable energy, the bio-economy, desalination, deep-seabed mining, and coastal and environmental protection.

Annex Table 4.B.4 details direct global value added (GVA) of the established EU ocean economy industries between 2012 and 2016. In 2016, the established ocean-based industries are estimated to directly contribute roughly EUR 174 billion to the overall EU economy. Other metrics published include employment (3.48 million), average annual salary (EUR 28 300) and contribution to total EU GDP (1.3%).

Annex Table 4.B.4. Gross value added in the EU’s “blue economy” (2012-2016)







Living resources






Marine extraction of oil and gas






Ports, warehousing and water projects






Maritime transport






Shipbuilding and repair






Coastal tourism












Note: In EUR millions (2016)

Source: European Commission (2018[87]), The 2018 Annual Economic Report on EU Blue Economy https://10.2771/305342.


France manages the second largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the world and the French Government increasingly supports efforts to recognise the impacts of its ocean economy (Didier, 2017[88]). The Maritime Economy Research Unit of the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER) has produced a number of reports on the size and state of the French ocean economy. The first French Marine Economy Data (FMED) report was produced in 2001 and the most recent in 2014 (Girard and Kalaydjian, 2014[89]). Ocean-based industries are split according to whether they are in the private sector or the “non-market public sector”. The data is taken from the national accounts and in several cases – transport, tourism and environment – satellite accounts have been relied upon. A number of international comparisons are also made, mainly at the European Union level and using data from Eurostat and industry sources. Annex Table 4.B.5 details GVA and employment estimates for the French ocean economy.

Annex Table 4.B.5. Gross value added and employment in France’s “maritime economy” in 2013


Gross value added

(EUR millions)


Private sector



Coastal tourism



Seafood industry



Shipbuilding and repair



Sea and river transport



Sea salt



Extraction of marine aggregates



Electricity production



Marine and river civil engineering



Submarine cables



Offshore oil and gas services and equipment



Non-market public sector



French navy



Public intervention



Coastal and marine environment protection



Marine research






Source: Girard and Kalaydjian (2014[89]), French Marine Economic Data 2013 https://10.13155/36455.

An alternative measurement of the French ocean economy but from a regional perspective was conducted by the urban planning agency of Brest, Brittany (ADEUPa, 2018[90]). The analysis considers employment and the number of establishments associated with 17 industries in the Brittany maritime economy. The results suggest that, in 2016, 65 650 people were employed across 7 160 establishments. This is roughly equal to 5% of total employment in the region. Over half of the number of jobs are split between activities related to national defence (31%) and the seafood industry (25%). Tourism is not taken into account due to the difficulty of disaggregating marine and coastal tourism from the total in the region. The data is broken down further according to commune, indicating that the largest number of maritime jobs and establishments are found in Brest, the capital of the region. The analysis relies on a number of assumptions including that at least 25% of an establishments activity be maritime related in order to be counted.


The Government of Grenada, an island state in the southeast Caribbean, does not yet measure its ocean economy but is actively encouraging investment in potential growth areas. The Blue Innovation Institute has been created in order to encourage investment in nine strategically selected ocean-based industries; marine services, boutique tourism, marine research, eco-tourism, fisheries and aquaculture, global tourism, science and technology, coastal residential, and, finally, shipping and industry (Sawney, 2017[91]). Grenada has set an ambitious objective “to optimise the coastal, marine, and ocean resources, to become a world leader and an international prototype for creating economic blue growth and sustainability”. Key to achieving this aim will be that the value of economic activity in these industries, and the environmental impacts associated with it, are measured correctly.


The Irish Government has funded the collection of ocean economy statistics, including the publishing of five reports on Ireland’s Ocean Economy , since 2004 (Hynes, 2017[92]). The reports, annual updates of ocean economy statistics and analysis of trends and changing dynamics are produced by the Socio-Economic Marine Resource Unit (SEMRU) at the University of Galway. In general, there is a high-level of awareness and use of ocean economy statistics produced by SEMRU and the data is used to inform policy at all levels of government (Hynes, 2017[92]).

At the national level, the Irish Government’s Integrated Marine Plan aims to double the ocean economy’s share in the total economy from 1.2% in 2010 to 2.4% in 2030 (Government of Ireland, 2012[93]). Annex Table 4.B.6 provides data on Ireland’s ocean-based industries from the most recent version of Ireland’s Ocean Economy which provides data for 2016 . The same publication estimates Irish ocean economy GVA to be around 1.7% of the total economy, suggesting a gradual movement towards the objectives outlined in the plan. At regional, local and rural levels, the data is used in planning and development decision-making (Hynes, 2017[92]).

As in all countries, the lack of appropriate industry classifications for the ocean economy poses a challenge for collecting Irish ocean economy data. This is particularly true for emerging industries, which are unrepresented by industry codes despite their high-growth potential. The SEMRU data is collected at industry level, but there is a need for better micro-level data (Hynes, 2017[92]). This would be particularly important for sub-national levels of policymaking.

Annex Table 4.B.6. Direct turnover, gross value-added and employment in Ireland’s “ocean economy” in 2016


Turnover (€ Millions)

GVA (€ Millions)

Employment (FTE)

Shipping & Maritime Transport




Marine Commerce




Tourism in Marine and Coastal Areas




International Cruise



Sea Fisheries




Marine Aquaculture




Seafood Processing




Marine Advanced Technology




Marine Biotechnology and Bio-products




Oil and Gas Exploration and Production




Manufacturing, Construction and Engineering




Marine Retail Services




Marine Renewable Energy




Source: Vega and Hynes (2017[94]) Ireland's Ocean Economy.


Italy has highlighted a number of sectors important for the ocean economy including fisheries, transport, tourism and environmental protection and management. Where official classifications are available, economic data on these activities has been assessed (Borra, 2017[95]). This exercise reveals that Italian ocean-based industry currently measurable through official statistics was equal to EUR 42.6 billion in GVA, or around 3% of the total economy, in 2015. Employment figures for 2015 were 835,000 or 3.5% of employment in the total economy. Of all ocean-based industry GVA, marine tourism has the largest share (57%) followed by fisheries (18.2%). The results also suggest that the Italian ocean economy is more resilient to downturns than the total economy. Between 2011 and 2015 GVA/employment decreased by 0.4%/1.0% in the ocean economy compared to 2.5%/3.6% in the total economy.


For the Korea Maritime Institute, the concept of the ocean economy has evolved over the past 30 years. Originally limited to the conventional industries (fisheries, shipbuilding, shipping and ports), it now includes emerging high value-added sectors and additional environmental sectors such as water purification and coastal restoration (Chang, 2017[96]). The Korea Maritime Institute (KMI) recently analysed the ocean-based industries using Korean Input-Output tables. The results of this analysis are presented in Annex Table 4.B.7. The linkages between the industries and the rest of the economy have been explored through input-output analysis (Kwak, Yoo and Chang, 2005[97]; Kim, Jung and Yoo, 2016[98]). To enhance the accuracy and detail of such statistics, the Korea Maritime Institute (KMI) is currently working to ensure data is consistent across industries and is developing subsector surveys for important emerging industries such as marine biotechnology (Chang, 2017[96]).

Annex Table 4.B.7. Output, value-added and employment in Korea’s “ocean economy” in 2014

Output (USD millions)

Value-added (USD millions)


Fisheries & aquaculture




Seafood processing




Seafood wholesale and retail




Marine leisure & tourism




Marine resource development and construction












Shipbuilding and offshore plant




Marine machine & equipment




Marine services (mapping, surveying, consulting, education, R&D)




Note: USD 1 = KRW 1,053.26 in 2014

Source: KMI (2019[99]) Korea's Ocean Economy.


The Government of Norway’s recent ocean strategy document outlines the government’s role in promoting sustainable growth of the ocean economy and gives economic data on Norwegian ocean-based industries (Government of Norway, 2017[100]). The estimates were conducted by a consulting firm which produces an annual report on several Norwegian ocean-based industries, the latest was released in 2018 and contains data for 2016 (Menon Economics, 2018[101]). The ocean strategy details the Norwegian Government’s intention to adopt a holistic, cross-sectoral approach to ocean policymaking. The economic data on ocean-based industry improve the knowledge base and are used in a variety of policy settings (Abildgaard, 2017[102]). Annex Table 4.B.8 displays the data for value creation and employment published in the ocean strategy.

Beyond the ocean strategy, Norway has a long tradition of collecting statistics related to the ocean economy. Data on wild fish catches were first published in 1868, the aquaculture industry in 1971 and the oil and gas industry in 1984. Typical metrics collected include economic data on fish sales, numbers of workers and acquisitions and sales of fixed assets. This rich statistical resource suggests that Norway could make a good case for the development of a satellite account for ocean-based industry.

Annex Table 4.B.8. Value creation and employment in Norway’s “ocean economy” in 2014


Value creation

(NOK billions)























Note: Value creation in an industry is the sum of value creation in each business (calculated as wage costs plus earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA)). The public sector is not included.

Source: Government of Norway (2017[100]) New Growth, Proud History.


See Box 4.7 for a short summary of Portugal’s pioneering “Satellite Account for the Sea”.

United States of America

The Office for Coastal Management of the National Ocean and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) collects data on the ocean economy through the Economics: National Ocean Watch (ENOW) programme. The ENOW database provides data on the number of establishments, employment, wages and contribution to GDP across six sectors dependent on the ocean and Great Lakes. ENOW data is freely accessible and easily explored through the ENOW Explorer interface (NOAA, 2018[64]). The dataset has been updated annually since 2005 and can be disaggregated according to industry, region, state and county. Annex Table 4.B.9 gives employment and contribution to GDP data for the ocean economy across the six sectors available through the ENOW database. Colgan (2013)[16] details a methodology used to estimate the value of the ocean economy in the USA. Several important limitations and difficulties associated with the data are also presented.

Annex Table 4.B.9. Employment and GDP in the USA’s “ocean economy” (2010-2015)















Marine Construction









Living Resources









Offshore Mineral Extraction









Ship and Boat Building









Tourism and Recreation









Marine Transportation









All Ocean Sectors









Note: Employment figures are by 1000s of persons employed by business establishments, including part-time and seasonal workers; but not including self-employed workers. GDP is in billions of 2015 USD billions.

Source: NOAA (2018[64]) Economics: National Ocean Watch (ENOW) Data https://coast.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/tools/enow.html.


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