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Ocean Jobs

Three federal agencies—the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and U.S. Census Bureau—produce data on the national economy. NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management makes it easier to identify and access data on economic activity that is directly linked to the resources of the oceans and Great Lakes. The following facts are based on the latest available data, which is from 2016.

154,000 businesses

There are 154,000 ocean-dependent business establishments. In 2016, these businesses employed more than 3 million people and paid $129 billion in wages. Employment in the ocean economy grew by 2.7 percent—compared to the 1.7 percent increase in the U.S. economy as a whole.

Nonmarket drivers
Ocean economics thumbnail

Many of the coastal and ocean amenities that attract visitors are free, generating no direct employment, wages, or gross domestic product. However, these “nonmarket” features are usually key drivers for many coastal businesses. These businesses can be greatly affected by ecosystem health, water quality, and the associated aesthetics.

$304 billion in goods and services

Annually, the ocean economy produces about $304 billion in goods and services, accounting for 2.0 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

Salary: $153,000 versus $25,000

Of the six sectors that make up the ocean economy, employees in offshore mineral extraction make the most, while the average income for employees in the tourism and recreation sector is the least.

Offshore mineral extraction makes up only 4.1% of total employment in the ocean economy, while recreation and tourism makes up a staggering 72.7% of these jobs.

Economics graphic comparing the ocean ecomony to other sectors of industry.  Crop production, telecommunications and building construction employ 2.7 million Americans; the ocean economy employs 3 million.
Graphic is presentation-ready: copy and paste for use in a handout or presentation.

Note: The facts on this page refer to the “ocean economy,” which includes six economic sectors that are directly linked to the resources of the oceans and Great Lakes. This is distinct from the “coastal economy,” which accounts for all economic activity in the shore-adjacent counties of the U.S.

The basic geographic footprint for the data represented on this page is a suite of “Coastal Shoreline Counties” determined by using the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s definition, which states that a coastal county must

  1. Have a coastline bordering the open ocean or the Great Lakes or
  2. Contain coastal high hazard areas (V-zones).

  3. ENOW makes two adjustments to the list of Coastal Shoreline Counties:

  4. Removal of shore-adjacent counties with no relevant economic activity (11 counties and the District of Columbia) and
  5. The addition of counties that are not shore-adjacent but do have significant levels of ocean-and Great Lakes-dependent economic activity (17 counties).

Handout: Top Ten Marine Economy