Oceans, Fisheries and Coastal Economies

April 6, 2018

Photo: Andrea Borgarello / World Bank - TerrAfrica


Billions of people worldwide —especially the world’s poorest— rely on healthy oceans to provide jobs and food, underscoring the urgent need to sustainably use and protect this natural resource.

According to the OECD, oceans contribute $1.5 trillion annually in value-added to the overall economy. The FAO estimates that fisheries and aquaculture assure the livelihoods of 10-12 percent of the world’s population with more than 90 percent of those employed by capture fisheries working in small-scale operations in developing countries. In 2014, fisheries produced roughly 167 million tons of fish and generated over US$148 billion in exports, while securing access to nutrition for billions of people and accounting for 17 percent of total global animal protein -- even more in poor countries.

Healthy oceans, coasts and freshwater ecosystems are crucial for economic growth and food production, but they are also fundamental to global efforts to mitigate climate change. “Blue carbon” sinks such as mangroves and other vegetated ocean habitats sequester 25 percent of the extra CO2 from fossil fuels and protect coastal communities from floods and storms. In turn, warming oceans and atmospheric carbon are causing ocean acidification that threatens the balance and productivity of the oceans.

While ocean resources have the potential to boost growth and wealth, human activity has taken a toll on ocean health. Fish stocks have deteriorated due to overfishing — the share of fish stocks outside biologically sustainable levels rose from 10 percent in 1974 to 32 percent in 2013, while in the same year approximately 57 percent of fish stocks were fully exploited. Fish stocks are affected by illicit fishing, which may account for up to 26 million tons of fish catches a year or more than 15 percent of total catches. In fact, poor fisheries management squanders roughly US$80 billion annually in lost economic potential and 11 percent in catch potential. Fish habitats are also under pressure from pollution, coastal development, and destructive fishing practices that undermine fish population rehabilitation efforts.

Oceans are also threatened by marine plastic pollution and each year, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans, with microplastics becoming part of the food chain. Scientists estimate that without urgent action, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.  While complex, the issue of ocean plastic waste is a solvable challenge. Five countries are responsible for more than 50 percent of total plastic waste in the oceans (China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, and Thailand). We also know that an estimated 80 percent of ocean plastic pollution originates from inadequate land-based solid waste management.

Proper management of fisheries, investment in sustainable aquaculture and protection of key habitats can restore the productivity of the ocean and return benefits to billions in developing countries while ensuring future growth, food security and jobs for coastal communities.


The World Bank Group helps countries promote strong governance of marine and coastal resources to improve the contribution to sustainable and inclusive economies by supporting sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, making coastlines more resilient, establishing coastal and marine protected areas, reducing pollution, and developing knowledge and capacity around ocean health.

The World Bank and many of our partners have adopted what we call the Blue Economy approach to oceans and waterways. This approach supports economic growth, social inclusion and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring the environmental sustainability of oceans and coastal areas.

The World Bank’s active Blue Economy portfolio is worth US$3.7 billion. The Bank provides some $1.1 billion in financing for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, and $1.5 billion for efforts to conserve and enhance coastal and ocean habitats. The Bank’s engagement in fisheries and aquaculture is also supported by the Global Program for Fisheries, PROFISH, which aims to improve the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of world’s fisheries and aquaculture. The Bank also provides some $1.1 billion for coastal infrastructure such as waste treatment, watershed management and other activities that help reduce coastal and marine pollution.

Active regional programs include support for the Pacific island regionWest Africa and South West Indian Ocean fisheries management, a partnership to build governance for migratory fish stocks in areas beyond and between national jurisdiction, and a regional technical assistance to combat coastal erosion in West Africa.

The Bank also contributes to knowledge around oceans and fisheries with publications such as Fish to 2030: Prospects for Fisheries and Aquaculture and Trade in Fishing Services Report; The Sunken Billions Revisited: Progress and Challenges in Global Marine Fisheries (a follow-up report to The Sunken Billions: The Economic Justification for Fisheries Reform), and more.  In 2017, the World Bank released The Potential of the Blue Economy Report, which discusses long-term benefits of the sustainable use of marine resources for small island developing states and coastal least developed countries. The Bank’s environmental data publication - The Little Green Data Book – featured the blue economy in its 2017 edition, providing indicators on capture fisheries, aquaculture production, and marine-related areas.

The Bank convenes partners and stakeholders to mobilize ocean investment, advocate for positive reforms and ensure that healthy oceans remain on the global development agenda. It works through partnerships including PROFISH, and the Ocean Partnerships for Sustainable Fisheries and Biodiversity Conservation.


In Romania, the Integrated Nutrient Pollution Control Project (INPCP) supports meeting the EU Nitrates Directive requirements by reducing nutrient discharges to water bodies, promoting behavioral change at the communal/regional level, and strengthening institutional and regulatory capacity.  Also, it supports efforts to reduce over the long-term the discharge of nutrients into water bodies leading to the Danube River and Black Sea through integrated land and water management. Over 100 communes have benefited from support under the first phase of the project, 11 sewerage systems and communal wastewater treatment plants were built, seedlings were planted on 182 hectares in 57 communities, and laboratory equipment were secured for water quality testing; a first Romanian pilot plant for biogas production from manure was built. Over the past decade, water quality and ecosystem improvements been observed in the Danube River/Black Sea basin as a result. Nitrogen and phosphorus emissions have decreased by 20% and 50% respectively in the Danube River/Black Sea basin in the last 15 years.

In India, the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project finances national- and state-level capacity building, land use planning, and pilot investments in pollution management, resource conservation, and livelihood improvements. The program is pioneering ‘Hazard Line’ mapping for the entire coastline of India, to better manage coastal space and minimize vulnerabilities through shoreline protection and land use plans. So far, 1.5 million people have benefitted from the program, with nearly half of them women, and 16,500 hectares of mangroves have been planted. Sewage treatment plants for about 1 million people were completed, contributing to prevent the flow of more than 80 million liters of untreated sewage into the ocean per day and to protect over 400 km of coastline.

Mozambique’s conservation areas consist of diverse habitats that include a coastline with some of the most spectacular coral reefs in the world. The MozBio project aims to strengthen conservation areas’ protection and improve the lives of communities in and around them. It does so by supporting efficient management, promoting tourism, as well as creating jobs, business opportunities, and livelihood activities that focus on conservation and biodiversity. An estimated 11,200 households or 56,000 people are set to directly benefit from the project.

The Coastal and Biodiversity Management Project in Guinea-Bissau helped the country establish national parks and protected areas network, protecting 480,000 hectares of the country’s coastal zone. In four of the five established protected areas, the effectiveness of park management increased by at least 15 percent from 2005 to 2010. Subsequently, the GEF financed Biodiversity Conservation Trust Fund Project and the IDA financed Biodiversity Conservation Project, further strengthened the management of the National System for Protected Areas (SNAP) and put in place a sustainable financing mechanism for biodiversity conservation, the BioGuinea Foundation.  Achievements included: increasing the overall management effectiveness of the SNAP to 117% over the 2009 baseline, designing a SNAP-wide monitoring system to track biological and socio-economic health of the PAs, and operationalizing the BioGuinea Foundation.

In Indonesia, where two-thirds of coral reefs are considered threatened by overfishing, the Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Project (COREMAP), has benefited 358 village communities by establishing marine protected areas and reducing illegal and destructive fishing. This work has increased communities’ income in COREMAP areas by 21 percent since 2008. Now in its third phase, the project aims to increase communities’ income by 15 percent and improve coral reef health in at least 70 percent of project sites by 2019.

The West Africa Regional Fisheries Program (Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, GhanaGuineaGuinea BissauLiberiaMauritaniaSenegal and Sierra Leone) aims to increase the economic contribution of marine resources through strengthened fisheries governance, reduced illegal fishing, and increased value-added to fish products. Launched in 2010 with four countries, the program now encompasses 10 countries with about half of them moving into Phase 2. In Cabo Verde, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone, where Phase 1 is reaching completion, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing has significantly decreased. For countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, reduction in IUU fishing has had direct positive results on livelihoods in coastal communities. In all countries, fisheries legal frameworks are better aligned on international standards and 37,000 canoes have been registered. Senegal has successfully piloted community led fisheries management. The new Senegalese Fisheries Code was enacted in 2015 and eight fishing communities have since been formally recognized, with the oldest one reporting a 133 percent increase in catch productivity and more resources allocated to education and health.

In Peru, the Bank partnered with the government to spur the adoption of new regulations to reduce overcapacity in the anchoveta fishing fleet. By December 2012, a total of 329 wood and steel vessels had been retired, representing around 30 percent of the original fleet. The government compensated affected workers and facilitated their transition into other economic activities. Harvesting was kept within the catch limit, set based on scientific evidence, to keep the fishery sustainable. As a result, independent fishers who remained in the sector landed a better-quality product and negotiated a 200 percent increase in price for the sale of their catch.


Last Updated: Apr 06,2018