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Guest Column: We are all part of the Blue Economy

Perhaps I am dating myself, but I often find that I turn to my kids to help translate what some new word or phrase means. I am sure I am not alone, and the fact that we are seeing new concepts introduced almost daily is not surprising given the complexity of our world these days.

Now, if you’re like me, you’ve probably heard the term "Blue Economy" tossed around more and more and you have probably also wondered what the phrase means. I now have the privilege of leading the Island Institute’s Blue Economy efforts and have worked hard to introduce the concept of the Blue Economy to our organization and to the state, so hopefully I can help bring some clarity.

Sam Belknap is senior community development officer at the Island Institute. II photo.

The term Blue Economy first appeared in Europe more than a decade ago. It was a means by which people could talk about the vast number of ways people were making a living on and from the water.

At its core, the Blue Economy concept seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion, and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while also ensuring the environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas for future generations. The term is a flexible one that can include almost anything related to the ocean: energy, shipping, tourism, recreation, aquaculture, transmission cables and much more. A number of services provided by ocean ecosystems, for which markets do not exist, also contribute significantly to human activities, such as carbon sequestration and coastal land protection. But now, more than ever before, we cannot afford to ignore the original and still vital foundation of the Blue Economy: seafood and the infrastructure central to its harvest and processing.

To help envision the Blue Economy in Maine, let me attempt to paint a picture. Envision yourself high above any coastal town in Maine. You first see the clearest examples of the Blue Economy: people on boats hauling traps, nets and lines, tending to aquaculture farms or otherwise supporting our ability to harvest sustainable food from the sea. You then notice the vast number of recreational boats, both powered and sail, on the water and in harbors. Perhaps in the distance you are able to catch a glimpse of a research vessel at work or a large container or tanker ship on its way to one of Maine’s deep water ports, connecting our coast to the global economy. Perhaps you see barges and vessels engaged in marine construction or dredging, maintaining our vital coastal infrastructure.

Next, you may notice a number of private and public commercial wharves along the shore. These places play the critical role of connecting the ocean to the wider economy. We also see restaurants that serve up the daily catch from the sea and play a critical role in the tourism industry so important along the coast. As your gaze turns inland, you see trucks coming and going, bringing seafood to market and critical supplies back to the shore. You also spot in the distance marine supply stores, fuel supply stores, and large cold storage buildings, each providing critical services. You also might see Maine’s dozens of public and private research labs where the ocean is studied and new ways of creating value are identified.

Lobster boat at rest. MLA photo.

Throughout this birds-eye view, you are watching tens of thousands of people working, providing for their families and for their communities, all supported directly or indirectly by the ocean. We must not forget that these people play the most critical role because without them there is no Blue Economy.

Upon reflection, perhaps we see that the concept of the Blue Economy is not truly as new as it seems. Maybe it is simply a new way of talking about the complexity and importance of our marine economy and the people that make it work in a way that touches on national and international connections. The idea of the Blue Economy, and the importance placed on the sustainable use of the ocean, is one that fits well in Maine. It is the foundation of the most significant member of the state’s Blue Economy, the Maine lobster fishery.

The most important lesson expressed by the Blue Economy concept is that no one component exists on its own. It is also important to note that no part of the Blue Economy is free from the impacts of the outside world. Maine’s ability to support its Blue Economy and the thousands who make a living within it will depend upon our collective ability to adapt in the face of larger forces, such as climate change, supply chain disruptions or global economic forces. We must ensure that the Blue Economy remains intact for the people who live in coastal communities, benefiting them, their communities and the ocean as well. Otherwise, we will have lost an opportunity to support a bright future for our coast.

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