Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 3-2022


Start with a simple question. What does the ocean contribute to the national economy? This might seem like a trivial question. After all, the contributions of other major natural resources such as agriculture or forest products are regularly counted as the output of farming, food, and fibre industries along with lumber and other forest products. But in most countries, there is no identifiable “ocean economy”. Industries like marine transportation or fishing are accounted for, but nothing that ties all the varied ocean-related economic activity together. Without a deliberate effort to identify and measure all relevant economic activity related to the ocean as part of a comprehensive account it is easy to miss industries like tourism and recreation or marine construction. Combining data on ocean-related economic activities to provide an ongoing, comprehensive picture of how ocean and coastal resources that can be used for a variety of purposes is the task of creating what can be called core ocean accounts. This process is underway in many countries around the world, and many others are considering creating their own core ocean accounts or are asking whether it is worth doing so. This guidance document has been prepared to assist the latter countries decide whether and how to proceed with creating core ocean accounts. For those countries that have created accounts, it provides a review of methodologies that may improve future versions of their accounts. The guidance is designed for readers with little familiarity with economics but also contains practical information for specialists who may work such accounts. Why are they called “core” ocean accounts? Ocean accounting is envisioned as a system of measurement that can show the complex interactions of physical, biological, social, and economic systems in ways that are consistent, understandable, and actionable. Full ocean accounts as envisioned by the Global Ocean Accounts Partnership (GOAP) will consider not only the value of labour and capital employed in directly producing goods and services associated with the ocean, but also the values of the ocean natural capital whose returns are not paid for in the transactions that make up what we usually think of as “the economy”. Ocean accounts can also include ways to measure the capacity of organizations to address the complex systems involved. Figure 1 provides a conceptual overview of the full ocean accounting system as envisioned, with the core accounts highlighted in red. But at the core of all these “accounts” lie those goods and services whose production and sale must be understood first because they affect directly or indirectly all other values and because they are the aspects of ocean economic value. They are “core” to the ocean accounting process because they are necessary, though not sufficient. This does not mean that setting up ocean accounts must start with the national income-based accounts. For many reasons a country may choose to start the ocean accounting process with an environmental account for a particular region or resource, and other guidance for the creation of these accounts will be available from GOAP (

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