The European Commission (EC) has announced that it will launch a new plan for a sustainable blue economy in the EU, for the industries and sectors related to oceans, seas and coasts.
It comes as the coronavirus pandemic has hit the blue economy sector in the last year and the bloc looks to ensure recovery focuses on sustainability and resilience.
Blue economy explained
The European Union's blue economy is a large, complex ecosystem. It encompasses all industries and sectors related to oceans, seas and coasts, whether they are based directly in the marine environment (shipping, seafood, energy generation) or on land (ports, shipyards, coastal infrastructures).
According to the most recent blue economy report, the traditional sectors of the blue economy provide 4.5 million direct jobs and generate over €650bn (£559bn, $789bn) in turnover and €176bn in gross value added in 2018.
Alongside traditional sectors, innovative sectors are evolving and growing. These include ocean renewable energy, blue bio-economy, bio-technology and desalination.
Watch: Red and blue economies are heading in sharply different directions
What is the blue economy plan?
The EU aims to be climate neutral in 2050. The EC is looking for those in the blue economy to reduce their environmental and climate impact, in order to achieve the objectives of the European Green Deal, and ensure a green and inclusive recovery from the pandemic.
Part of the plan is to switch to a circular economy and reduce pollution, as well as developing offshore renewable energy by decarbonising maritime transport and by greening ports.
A sustainable ocean energy mix including floating wind, thermal, wave and tidal energy could generate a quarter of the EU's electricity in 2050, the EC said.
Ports are also crucial to connecting Europe's regions and countries, and could be used as energy hubs.
The EC also aims to preserve biodiversity and invest in nature, for example increasing fish stocks. It is additionally looking to ensure sustainable food production.
The EU imports 65% of its seafood, meaning that there is a real market for more food and feed production from the sea, especially from low-impact aquaculture.
Transitioning to a sustainable blue economy requires investing in innovative technologies. Wave- and tidal energy, algae production, development of innovative fishing gear or restoration of marine ecosystems will create new green jobs and businesses in the blue economy, it said.
Innovative technologies such as big data, artificial intelligence, advanced modelling, sophisticated sensors and autonomous systems are likely to transform the blue economy in the immediate future.
“Healthy oceans are a precondition for a thriving blue economy. Pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction, coupled with the effects of the climate crisis, all threaten the rich marine biodiversity that the blue economy depends on, Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president for the Green Deal said.
“We must change tack and develop a sustainable blue economy where environmental protection and economic activities go hand in hand.”
Watch: COVID last year may have spurred more fishing interest