NEW ZEALAND’S OCEAN ECONOMY IN DECLINE

A significant growth in shipping

We have been thinking…..

What contribution does the ocean economy make to New Zealand’s overall economy? On 27 June, Statistics New Zealand released a set of tables that give what is undoubtedly the best currently available official estimate. You can find the tables here: https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/environmental-economic-accounts-2019-tables.

Adding up the totals from shipping, fisheries and aquaculture, offshore oil and gas, marine tourism and recreation, marine services and marine manufacturing and construction, the contribution of the ocean economy to the national economy, based on Stats NZ figures, appears to have dropped to as low as 1.4%. This is for the March year, 2017, which is the latest available.

Marine Services – a contributor

In 2010, the oceans contribution was 2.2%. By 2013 it had declined to 1.8% and for the last two years it has been sitting at around 1.4%. Despite growth in the fisheries and aquaculture industries, the overall ocean economy is stagnating. In fact, it is not just stagnating. It is in decline.

Why? The decline is partly the result of a steady fall in oil and gas production, offset only in part by a significant growth in shipping activity and some relatively modest growth in fisheries and aquaculture and in marine tourism and recreation.

It will surprise some observers that shipping is now the largest contributor to the ocean economy, at 37% of the total. Fisheries and aquaculture contribute 29% and offshore minerals (oil and gas) 27%.

There may be some problems in the data collection and methodology used by Stats NZ that need investigating. For example, we note that the figures for government and defence are significantly understated, as are the figures for marine tourism and recreation. Even so, the oceans picture is disappointing. Why?

Because New Zealand’s offshore estate is truly massive. Based on size alone, and what we know of the existence of ocean-based resources that will be in increasing demand as we transition to a low emissions economy, one might expect that it should be contributing many times the current paltry figure of 1.4% to the overall national economy.

The figures reported by Stats NZ challenge New Zealand policy makers and strategists concerned with the development of the New Zealand economy, and of New Zealand’s oceans, to do better. This is not just a matter for industry. Government must play its part.

The Blue Economy research project being led by Auckland University’s Associate Professor Nick Lewis as part of the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge has the potential to provide the oceans reset that appears to be badly needed. We have one of the largest ocean estates in the world. We have the resources. We just need the drive and imagination to find a way to reposition our oceans to become a much more significant contributor to our economy, and to our environmental wellbeing as a country.

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