WJ Editorial
WJ Editorial

Hey, We’re The ‘Marine Economy,’ Too!

On June 8, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, released a new break-out of economic information on the “marine economy.”

Those words suggest a comprehensive picture. The technical name for this kind of data break-out is a “satellite account,” meaning a sub-account of the dataset that describes the U.S. economy as a whole. The official title of the new publication is “Marine Economy Satellite Account, 2014-2019,” and it’s very informative.

But if you scroll down to the bottom of this report’s landing page, you will find this definition of its scope: “The geographic scope of the MESA includes the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans within the Exclusive Economic Zone (approximately 200 nautical miles off the U.S. coast) as well as marginal seas such as the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, Long Island Sound, San Francisco Bay and others. Also included is the U.S. shoreline directly along these bodies of water. Furthermore, the Great Lakes are included up to the international boundary with Canada.”

That’s right, the report covering the “marine economy” really means “blue-water marine economy” only. 

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We were curious about this report, so we contacted the BEA and were put in touch with the team leader of the report from the BEA side. Was there a reason why the inland waterways were excluded? Is there a plan to do a further breakout of the inland waterway economy?

As far as he knew, there is no satellite account of the inland waterway economy considered separately. Among the sectors of the economy that have been so represented—that is, given satellite accounts—are “health,” “travel and tourism,” “outdoor recreation” and “arts and culture production,” along with “digital economy,” “small business” and the newly released “marine economy.”

There may be good and valid reasons to consider the “blue-water” economy separately from the inland waterway economy. When we were told who the most interested users of this report would be, however—state and local entities, regional development organizations, etc.—we could see no reason why such a report would not have been strengthened by including inland waterway data in one truly comprehensive picture. This report was not, as far as we can tell, intended for a blue-water-specific purpose, so we don’t understand why the brown-water sector was excluded.

Being overlooked is an old story for the inland waterways industry. It happens when the Coast Guard devises regulations with blue-water vessels in mind, without properly considering their effects or implementation on inland towboats. It happens when Jones Act opponents triumphantly cite the declining numbers of American-flag oceangoing vessels as a convincing argument for scrapping the Jones Act, while ignoring the robust barge and towboat sector and its thousands of workers, billions of tons of cargoes, tens of millions of tons of carbon saved and hundreds of billions of dollars of contribution to the U.S. economy.

Our industry has gotten its due from other federal departments. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its study, “Importance of Inland Waterways to U.S. Agriculture.” It is loaded with facts and figures demonstrating the importance of the inland waterways sector to the U.S. economy. We have drawn attention to other studies over the past few years. 

Anyone interested in the marine economy should read this new publication, by all means. Just remember that it is not a picture of the entire “marine economy,” only a part.