L.A. County begins tracking the region’s $37.7-billion ocean economy

By Gary Walker

Like something out of a 21st-century episode of “Sea Hunt,” the battery-powered underwater drone bobbed up and down in Marina del Rey Harbor as inventor Rusty Jehangir looked on proudly. With an HD camera capable of transmitting live footage of the sea floor and a tiny robotic arm able to retrieve small objects, the BlueROV2 — which users can pilot from shore with an Xbox One controller — is designed to make the kind of technology employed in oil and gas exploration available to the general public.

The BlueROV2 demonstration near the Burton Chace Park Boathouse was part of a Feb. 28 press conference announcing that the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation will begin tracking indicators for the local “ocean economy.” Port of Los Angeles sustainable technology incubator AltaSea and the affiliated Holdfast Aquaculture, a provider for sustainable seafood growers, offered additional evidence of the tech industry’s increasing overlap into ocean-related economic activity.

The LAEDC’s newly defined ocean economy sector includes marine transportation, living resources (such as aquaculture), marina construction, offshore mineral extraction, ship and boat building, and — of utmost importance to the marina — ocean-related recreation and tourism.

“We found that, combined, these six sectors directly employ over 660,000 individuals across California. Marine transportation and tourism are the largest sectors, with 49% and 44% of the jobs, respectively,” LAEDC CEO Bill Allen said.

The report, coauthored by AltaSea, found that 117,000 workers in Los Angeles County are directly employed in the ocean economy, which sustains an additional 82,500 jobs.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose district stretches from the marina down through the South Bay, commissioned the LAEDC report last year. Forty years ago, her father Kenneth Hahn helped create the LAEDC as a county supervisor.

“By 2023, the ocean economy will produce 126,000 direct jobs in our communities and pay $37.7 billion in wages. There are plenty of indications that the future of job creation lies in the ocean economy,” Hahn, who test drove the BlueROV2 at the press conference, told the audience.

“If the ocean economy had been included in the last state jobs report, it would have ranked ninth between wholesale trade and information technology,” she continued. “So this is definitely something that we should begin tracking and encouraging.”

During the press conference, Hahn paid particular focus to the “blue economy,” which the World Bank defines as the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem.”

Hahn and Allen noted that sea-level rise and ocean acidification driven by climate change threaten not only the health of the ocean, but also its human economy.

“Investing in the ocean economy is an opportunity to have a positive effect on slowing and reversing climate change, through ocean renewable energies and sustainable fishing practices or new technologies that our entrepreneurs are dreaming of creating,” said Hahn, whose district includes the Port of Los Angeles.

“I’ve always been aware of how much international trade affects our local economy with all the jobs that are created by moving goods, but it really did surprise me how much the blue economy can create so many good local jobs,” Hahn continued. “These are the kinds of jobs that we ought to be encouraging our young people to pursue.”

Hahn said the LAEDC study can help guide decision-making at the county level.

“It just made sense to start thinking about what the blue economy means and what it is, and we needed a baseline study so that now we can begin tracking it and see how we’re doing,” she explained.

“This study represents a wave of opportunity for us,” Allen said, “It’s important to first know the sectors of our economy before we endeavor to successfully grow them, and this report indicates how critical the ocean economy is to Southern California.”

Read the full report at laedc.org.

Local leaders gathered in Marina del Rey to discuss the ocean economy