GLOUCESTER — Contrary to popular belief, the fishing industry is not dead.
And UMass Amherst’s Gloucester Marine Station has the numbers to prove it.
According to a study conducted by the marine station and presented at the Cape Ann Museum to city and state leaders on Friday, blue economy jobs grew faster than the regional economy as a whole from 2004 to 2020 as the number of people working the blue economy grew by 19.5% on the North Shore.
Over this period, all industries in the region had a growth of 12.2%.
“The strength of our North Shore Blue Economy is a combination of mature and emerging specialized industry clusters and opportunities in both traditional maritime industries and technology-based industries not always perceived as being connected to the ocean,” Katie Kahl, an assistant professor of sustainable fisheries and coastal resilience at UMass Amherst, wrote in the executive summary of the study.
The blue economy, as The World Bank defines it, is the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs and ocean ecosystem health.”
This includes coastal tourism and recreation, living resources, marine transportation, marine construction, ship and boat building and repair, and offshore minerals.
The focus area of the study included Gloucester, Rockport, Rowley, Newbury, West Newbury, Newburyport, Salisbury, Amesbury, Manchester, Essex, Beverly, Ipswich, Salem, Marblehead, Swampscott, Nahant, Lynn, Peabody, Danvers, Wenham and Hamilton.
The majority of increased employment in these communities, according to the study, were in the coastal tourism and recreation sector with more than 2,920 new jobs, while living resources — which includes fisheries, aquaculture, fish processing and distribution — lost 517 jobs and offshore minerals lost 54.
Employment in the living resources sector declined 27% between 2004 and 2020.
“Moving forward, coordinated and sustainable seafood business strategies that harness the region’s assets, experience, expertise and access to ocean resources are needed to revolutionize this sector, which is foundational to many other elements of the regional blue economy,” the study read.
As the study looks at how the North Shore blue economy has evolved over time, new areas such as offshore wind and marine genomics are anticipated to become evolving opportunities.
Kahl cited the potential offshore wind projects in Salem and off the Gulf of Maine as two examples of up and coming opportunities.
With so many potentials on the horizon, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito explained at the event Friday how state government has been working to support the blue economy.
“We want to invest in infrastructure that will help the community and the region grow jobs and create more opportunities within that area of our commonwealth,” she said, noting they do not just look at projects as a “one-off investment.”
“It needs to tie into a plan and a vision for economic opportunity,” Polito added.
She explained that the state has worked to provide grants and support harbor plans as each community works to revive its blue economy in the ways that make sense to that area.
Since 2015, the state’s Seaport Economic Council — which Polito chairs — has received 183 applications totaling $93 million in requests. So far, it has awarded $63.3 million in 138 grants in 51 coastal communities, including $12.4 million in the North Shore area.
The marine station polled 300 stakeholders and they said that in order to have a thriving blue economy, they must have better coordinated planning, investment strategies, targeted workforce training and marketing.
With the numbers and advice from experts across the North Shore, the marine station is looking at how to apply all of the information into tangible action items.
This looks like, Kahl explained, growing the North Shore Blue Economy network; branding and marketing the North Shore’s vision of resilient, sustainable and equitable blue economy; developing workforce training and education to drive blue economy job creation, and fundraising and increasing access to capital that will foster entrepreneurship and incubate blue economy enterprises and initiatives.
“We have the opportunity to sit at the table right now and ask all of these hard questions, but let’s do it so we are not finding ourselves talking about the impacts,” Kahl said.