Introduction to an inclusive blue economy

Marine and coastal resources are vital to many impoverished communities, but fisheries have been ignored by mainstream policymakers for many years. IIED’s ‘Inclusive blue economy’ programme aims to support resilient marine and coastal ecosystems and the people who depend on them, through collaborative research and meaningful dialogues.

Article, 27 November 2019
Inclusive blue economy
A programme of work supporting resilient marine and coastal ecosystems and the millions of people who depend on them to thrive by aligning incentives with investments
Graphical illustration

An extract from the graphical illustration of the discussions at an event held to discuss an inclusive blue economy (Image: Scarlet Design)

The ocean is a common heritage of all humanity, providing millions of people across the world with livelihoods and contributing to a range of critical ‘ecosystem services’, from biodiversity and culture to carbon storage and flood protection, recreation and amenity opportunities.

However, not all countries have the financial or technical means to share in the benefits of our marine and coastal resources or help protect them. And now, the ocean’s ecosystems are under threat from overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and climate change.

Unless these threats are reversed, millions of livelihoods could be lost and thousands of communities will have reduced access to a vital staple food. With the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the centre of development policy, it is timelier than ever to bring these issues to the forefront of the debate.

Most of the world’s fish is supplied by small-scale coastal fisheries, particularly in developing countries, but this is often unaccounted for in national statistics and unsupported by policymakers. Meanwhile, the high seas, making up half of the planet’s surface area, remain largely ungoverned – but increasingly exploited. And these ecosystems are, of course, closely interconnected.

We urgently need measures in place to make sure that 50% of the planet will be sustainably shared with 100% of the world’s population and that the ocean is protected for future generations.

What is IIED doing?

Our primary aim is the development of cost-effective policy instruments that enable national governments to meet Goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals (life below water).

These will be developed through:

  • Increased use of economic incentives for sustainable fisheries management, aligning social and ecological outcomes
  • Improved understanding among policymakers of the economic value of marine and coastal ecosystems in general, and small-scale fisheries in particular
  • Enhanced knowledge and understanding of inclusive policies for sustainable fisheries management so that fishers can lead thriving and healthy lives, and
  • An equitable and fair treaty to govern the high seas, with the principle of ‘common heritage of mankind’ enshrined in the outcome document.

Our strategy is to work at local, national and global levels, covering both fiscal reform and fair, inclusive ocean governance.

At local and national levels, we work with fishing communities and government decision-makers to understand issues affecting the ability of marine-based resource users to operate sustainably and successfully. We then develop and test economic incentives, financing mechanisms and governance arrangements to address those issues.

At global level, we provide capacity support to negotiators from least developed countries (LDCs) to enhance their ability to influence the high seas treaty negotiation and ensure an equitable outcome.

Our international event ‘Towards an inclusive blue economy’ in February 2019 focused specifically on stewardship of the high seas, fiscal policies for sustainable management of fisheries and natural capital accounts for small-scale fisheries. Some of the findings are included in our Action for an ocean for all long read.

Key projects

IIED and our partners have been tackling these issues through several different strands. Key projects include:

Animation playlist

In February 2019, IIED hosted an international event at which ocean experts, policymakers, fisheries associations, business and civil society representatives and stakeholders discussed strategies for developing national economies that protect marine resources and people's livelihoods and make sure that the benefits of the ocean are shared equitably. A playlist of interviews from the event are below and on IIED's YouTube channel.


Ocean and fisheries economics – our work, Essam Yassin Mohammed (2016), IIED Project material

Additional resources

'Navigating ocean investments: how collaborative management can fill the marine conservation funding gap', Laura Kelly, Annabelle Bladon (2019), IIED briefing

Longread: Action for an ocean for all, by Maggie Watson (March 2019)

Illustrations: Graphical summaries of the discussions during the first and second days of the 'Towards an inclusive blue economy' event (February 2019)

Blog: Focusing the blue economy future on small-scale fisheries, by Rosalind Goodrich (February 2019)

Blog: Green lessons for the blue economy, by Laura Kelly (December 2018)

Towards an inclusive blue economy, Essam Yassin Mohammed (2018), Project flyer

Poster: No hidden catch – why small scale fisheries matter

Poster: Governing the high seas: half the planet that belongs to us all

Poster: Winners and losers: what fiscal tools can make fisheries work for people and the environment?

Animation: Governing the high seas: half of the planet that belongs to us all

Animation: No hidden catch: why small-scale fisheries matter

Animation: Fiscal policy tools: creating a sustainable future for ocean and people

Audio: Fish Night 5: Can subsidies work for fish and for people?

Q&A: Revealing the value of small-scale fishing to national economies, interview with Ina Porras (May 2018)