The Blue Economy Is Green

  • Post published:September 29, 2023

If you’ve been feeling downhearted about the state of the world’s environment lately, there are some things brewing here on the coast that might surprise you and even bolster your hope for a better future. The city of Fort Bragg and the Noyo Harbor District just launched a new website that lays out plans for the adoption of a revolutionary concept called the Blue Economy.
The vibrant site explains Blue Economy principles and its proven benefits—with a world of references and related links—and details the increasingly important role of seafood and wild fisheries in a changing world. It asks for ideas from the community that can be included in the final program after this three-year, community-based study is completed. The goal is to integrate findings of the “Noyo Harbor Blue Economy Visioning, Resiliency, and Implementation Plan” (aka “The Plan”) into a “Local Coastal Program” update. Stay with me here…

Even with recent new business openings that have already upped the vitality of Noyo—the biggest harbor between San Francisco and Eureka—adding Blue Economy ideas will further revitalize the future of Fort Bragg’s fishery and its iconic fishing village. In turn, the economies of local fisherfolk, the town, county, and even the state will be affected positively.
You may have seen this “Blue Economy” phrase and wondered where this idea came from and what it means for our town and our coast. The term was coined by a Belgian economist named Gunter Pauli, who has been called “the Steve Jobs of sustainability,” in 1994, for the United Nations, and was first introduced at the UN at a conference in 2012. Sometimes used as a synonym for “Sustainable Ocean-based Economy,” the concept was based on the argument that marine ecosystems are more productive when they are healthy.
“Marine ecosystems” refers to ocean and coastal resources, such as energy, shipping, fisheries, aquaculture, mining, and tourism. But It also includes economic benefits that don’t have a dollar sign in front of them, like carbon storage, coastal protection, cultural values, and biodiversity.
To assure that it’s not just pie-in-the-sky aspiration, Blue Economy ideas recognize that this will require ambitious, coordinated actions to sustainably manage, protect, and preserve our ocean now, for the sake of present and future generations. Discussing threats such as overfishing, climate change, and plastic pollution, Baños Ruiz, the author of Blue Economy: Not just for Fish, argues that “what is bad for the ocean is bad for humankind” and there remain many areas in need of hard work and collaboration to protect the ocean’s vast economic wealth. Ambitious? Definitely. Doable? According to local stalwarts who are leading this Blue Economy charge: Absolutely.

View of Noyo Fishing Village. Photo by Zida Borcich.

Not to get too lost in the weeds, but to consider the Blue Economy for our own Mendocino Coast, we might go back a few years to put this “new” concept into a bigger context. In September 2015, heads of state and government and high representatives from far-flung member-countries of the United Nations met at UN Headquarters in New York on the organization’s seventieth anniversary. They were there to design a global vision for the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” On this unprecedented historical occasion, they committed to work tirelessly for “full implementation of a comprehensive, far-reaching, and people-centered set of universal and transformative goals and targets by 2030.” For more than two years, UN committees had conducted intensive public consultation with stakeholders around the world, paying particular attention to the voices of the poorest and most vulnerable in order to come to this groundbreaking Agenda. They declared, “We are committed to achieving sustainable development in its three dimensions—economic, social, and environmental—in a balanced and integrated manner,” which was to take into account a pledge to uphold and support People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnership.
What followed the 2015 meeting was equally confident. On December 5, 2017, the UN proclaimed the “Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development,” the goal of which is to enact a common framework that ensures that ocean science can fully support countries’ actions to sustainably manage the oceans.

Noyo at night. Photo by Zida Borcich.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a breathtaking document, a wish list for every cockeyed optimist, which frankly acknowledged that they were setting out a supremely ambitious and transformational vision. But the mere audacity of stating these intentions out loud and committing them to paper was a powerful call to action to the entire world. It boldly imagined “a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want, where all life can thrive, a world free of fear and violence. A world with universal literacy. A world with equitable and universal access to quality education at all levels, to health care and social protection, where physical, mental, and social well-being are assured. A world where we reaffirm our commitments regarding the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation and where there is improved hygiene; and where food is sufficient, safe, affordable, and nutritious. A world where human habitats are safe, resilient, and sustainable and where there is universal access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy.
“We envisage a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality, and non-discrimination; of respect for race, ethnicity, and cultural diversity; and of equal opportunity permitting the full realization of human potential and contributing to shared prosperity. A world which invests in its children and in which every child grows up free from violence and exploitation. A world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality and all legal, social, and economic barriers to their empowerment have been removed. A just, equitable, tolerant, open, and socially inclusive world in which the needs of the most vulnerable are met.” There’s more, but we will stop here. If you want to see the entire scope of this lofty vision for humanity and its only planet, you can find it at

That framework was the spark that led to the elaboration of the Blue Economy concept and to our present Noyo Harbor Blue Economy Visioning, Resiliency, and Implementation Plan. Yes, here we are in Fort Bragg, in 2023, only seven years from the 2030 UN target date, with climate change and economic fragility knocking on our door, putting an extraordinary plan into place, in our own front yard, for the benefit of our collective future.
Coupled with recent climate-related natural disasters—like drought, fire, kelp forest loss, demographic shifts, and the COVID-19 pandemic—declines in fisheries exposed both a vulnerable environment and fragile economy. In an attempt to create climate and community resilience along the Mendocino Coast, the Noyo Ocean Collective (NOC) was formed.
The Collective is committed to creating a shared vision in which economic vitality and environmental sustainability are compatible, outcomes are fair and equitable, and community priorities are at the center of it all. Founding members of NOC include the city of Fort Bragg, Noyo Harbor District, Mendocino College, Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians, Noyo Center for Marine Science, and West Business Development Center.
This dynamic collective effort continues to attract partners, and recently brought in Mendocino Sonoma Economic Development District, and Fort Bragg Unified School District. Several agencies and organizations have invested funding to support its success, including California Sea Grant, the California Coastal Commission, the Coastal Conservancy, California Employment Department, U.S. Department of Commerce, and others.

A recreational fishing boat returns to the docks under graceful Noyo Bridge at sundown. Photo by Zida Borich.

The Plan is a three-year planning project that aims to update “Local Coastal Programs” (LCPs) for both the city of Fort Bragg and Mendocino County, which, with funding from the California Coastal Commission, will help ensure future economic development, strengthen our unique coastal character, and provide a sound framework for economic growth, while protecting coastal resources and public access to our coastline. LCPs are planning tools used by local governments to guide development within California’s coastal zone and provide guidance for future development and protection of coastal resources. The city of Fort Bragg adopted its initial LCP in 1980 and it was certified by the Coastal Commission on July 14, 1983. Over the years, several amendments have been adopted and certified, but there hasn’t been a comprehensive update since August 2008. Integrating The Plan into an LCP update will accomplish four goals:

  1. Inclusive Regional Collaboration & Agency Coordination
    Before work on The Plan began, several weeks were dedicated to developing a Communication and Engagement Plan (CEP), which primarily functions through the website. The CEP acts as the overall charter for The Plan, providing the public and stakeholders with a clear guide and understanding of roles, responsibilities, actions, accountability, and outcomes of the project. Basically, Who, Where, When, and How to engage in this.
  2. Address Effects of Climate Change
    Impacts of a changing climate are complex and often interrelated. The Mendocino Coast is faced with numerous climate challenges within the natural environment, our economy, and social conditions. For example, Fort Bragg is ground zero for the urchin barren/kelp forest dynamic, which started with warming waters and the sea star wasting disease. [REM’s cover story in Issue 721, May 3, 2019 discusses this crisis.] This contributed to the loss of 97 percent of our kelp forests, which nurture all sorts of marine ecosystems and play an important role in carbon sequestration for the planet. The loss of kelp has strained our fisheries, and in turn the changing fisheries have weakened our local fleet, which is evidenced in the social/economic vulnerability of our community members who use, reside, and work on the water.
    Because Noyo Harbor is central to Fort Bragg’s economy, The Plan seeks to better understand the dynamic of such climate impacts by collecting information about existing environmental, physical, social, and economic conditions there. Importantly, The Plan also pursues a better insight into priorities the community values, then will incorporate these into its goals, policies, and programs for resiliency. The Plan will study, for example, the impact of sea level rise, tsunami hazards, and increased erosion due to increased wave action within the harbor to discover where opportunities—as well as limitations—for proposed development exist in the harbor. It will cast an eye to the feasibility of establishing restorative and/or commercial aquaculture. And, because space is limited in Noyo Harbor, The Plan will identify land uses, economic contribution, boundaries, and historic status in Noyo to find ways to increase productivity while retaining the gritty allure of a real, working fishing harbor. It will assess the conditions of the Harbor’s facilities and how much longer they might be viable in order to work out how to utilize what is already in place. Inspecting the structural integrity of the docks in the mooring basin, for instance, will determine what needs to be fixed or replaced there, and what the costs of replacements and maintenance will be. Fisherpeople say that a new fueling dock and a new ice house will be imperative for future viability. This information will be gathered during public meetings, as well as community events and pop-ups, workshops, interviews and focus groups, and through social media, surveys, and shared ideas, then will be disseminated through local organizations and board presentations as well as on the website.
  3. Environmental Justice
    California tribal communities were forcibly displaced in the area around Fort Bragg in the mid-eighteen hundreds. Over the following decades, the regional economy boomed with extractive industries like logging and fishing, but changing climate, weak regulations, and unsustainable practices have caused declines in these industries.
    The Plan is designed to amplify voices, like those of indigenous people, that traditionally have been left out of the conversation. The program’s success will depend on inclusive community planning, identifying opportunities for investment, and implementing actions together.
  4. Focus on Public Benefit
    Positioning our region for Blue Economy investment will do more than benefit nearshore ecosystems and improve quality of life and livelihood for locals. It will enrich the coastal experience for visitors, bolster the regional economy, as well as provide a model for global researchers tasked with developing solutions to a rapidly changing climate.
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Aerial view of the Noyo River and mooring basin.

As the coast has steadily moved on its path toward a vibrant and sustainable Blue Economy, partners, possibilities, and innovators have shown up to ease the process along. “We’ve learned so much from so many sources, and more information and support come to us almost daily,” says Sarah McCormick, Special Projects Manager at the city of Fort Bragg.
· One of these partners is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which manages all marine fisheries within the United States. Passed in 1976 the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is the primary law that governs marine fisheries and management. Its objectives include preventing overfishing, rebuilding stocks, increasing long-term economic and social benefits, ensuring a safe and sustainable supply of seafood, and protecting habitat that fish need to spawn, breed, feed, and grow to maturity. Using the Magnuson-Stevens Act as the guide, NOAA Fisheries assesses and predicts the status of fish stocks, sets catch limits, ensures compliance with fisheries regulations, and reduces bycatch.
· One of the possibilities The Plan will investigate is aquaculture—which can be a controversial subject. But at Fort Bragg’s May 2022 Blue Economy Symposium and Learning Festival (, the community heard from several successful aquaculture practitioners, both commercial and restorative in nature—and those that work within both spaces, such as The Cultured Abalone Farm Inc from Goleta, California, and Hog Island Oyster Company from Tomales Bay. Hog Island is utilizing aquaculture-assisted restoration to raise Olympia oysters (Oly’s) for both market and restorative value. Hog Island is also working to help researchers better understand the relationship between oyster aquaculture activity and eelgrass habitat.

· Since 2014, the Sunflower Sea Star has basically vanished from much of its range due to the wasting disease that causes the stars to fall apart. We know that this sea star is one of the only predators of purple urchin, and given the current overabundance of purple urchin, the subsequent urchin barrens and loss of kelp forests, supporting their recovery is a priority. A team of scientists at the University of Washington is raising these animals in the hope of deploying a restoration strategy. The success of a captive breeding program such as this gives hope for this species and demonstrates the value of aquaculture.
· In 2015, Kashia Band of Pomo Indians re-acquired 678 acres of ancestral homelands along the north coast of Sonoma County. This property is being used to support the Kashia Marine Resource Education Pilot Project—a sustainable platform program for teaching ocean and coastal science and Native American history and practices to both tribal members and the public. Currently Kashia are developing a commercial aquaculture farm and working with scientists at Bodega Bay Marine Laboratory on the plight of red abalone, given the devastation of kelp forests. This inspiring project focuses both upon traditional ecological knowledge and modern science in relation to conservation, stewardship, and sustainability.
· For over fifty years, California Sea Grant (CASG) has engaged with communities throughout California through research, education, extension, and communications. CASG has actively supported NOC and our efforts to position the Mendocino coastal region for Blue Economy investment. In particular, CASG Aquaculture Specialists Luke Gardner and Kevin Marquez Johnson generously invested time, energy, and expertise and helped secure funding to ensure the May 2022 Blue Economy Symposium and Learning Festival was a success.
The city of Fort Bragg is proud to include a CASG extension fellow on the team beginning October 2023, and to continue learning from and working alongside CASG specialists as we identify our coastal community’s needs and priorities.
· Harbor Districts are the local government agencies that are responsible for managing harbors. The roles that Harbor Districts fulfill, the operations that they oversee, and the areas that they manage are as unique as the individual harbor and has led to the joke: “If you’ve been to one harbor, you’ve just been to one harbor.” Over the next three years, we aim to gain a better understanding of the roles harbors can play, their powers within local governments, and how they can best support their local communities.

Torre Polizzi and Leslie Booher, owners of the aquaculture company, Sunken Seaweed, a commercial land-based seaweed farm, as well as a kelp hatchery and nursery on the peninsula of Humboldt Bay. Photo from

· Sunken Seaweed was founded in 2007 with the mission to improve California’s kelp forest ecosystems. Armed with knowledge and research experience from CalPoly Humboldt, inspiration from Greenwave, and pilot project support from the Port of San Diego’s Aquaculture and Tech Program, Sunken Seaweed has expanded and is busy farming seaweed in the waters of Humboldt Bay.

Oneka Technologies desalination buoy

· Oneka Technologies offers solutions that turn seawater into fresh water, using only the passive energy of waves. The entire process takes place offshore from modular buoys. The energy from the ocean activates a wave-actuated pump that moves seawater through reverse osmosis membranes and delivers fresh water through an underwater pipe to shore. The resulting brine contains ±35 percent higher salinity than seawater, compared to 100—150 percent with conventional desalination. And because the brine is released over a vast area, there is no salinity difference detected six-feet from buoy.
The intake is engineered to protect sea life, designed with sixty-micron mesh (smaller than the thickness of human hair), and backwashed to reduce maintenance and ensure enhanced suction protection. The flotation materials are made from 90 percent recycled PET plastics (10 percent foaming agent). This technology has been proven reliable during trials in Chile, Canada, and Florida—and we will have a pilot project off Fort Bragg’s coast to learn more.
The city of Fort Bragg and Oneka Technologies are working on the permitting process with various state and federal agencies, including: Department of Fish and Wildlife; State Lands Commission; Army Corps of Engineers; California Coastal Commission; U.S. Coast Guard.
Required studies include an entrapment study; benthic habitat survey; subsurface intake feasibility study; brine discharge technology empirical study; essential fish habitat assessment; and a sensitive species survey.

A fishing boat returns to Noyo Harbor after a long day on the waves.
Photo from

These and many other exciting and inspiring examples of environmentally and economically progressive projects, possibilities, and strategic partners have informed the process of getting the Mendocino Coast’s Blue Economy up and running. Like the UN’s ambitious Agenda, the Blue Economy, the Noyo Harbor Blue Economy Visioning, Resiliency, and Implementation Plan, and Noyo Oceans Collective promise to uphold People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnership in a brave, hopeful, daring collaboration. After reading a recent issue of Real Estate Magazine, an acquaintance exclaimed that, “Fort Bragg’s really got it going on!” Indeed, for a community of seven thousand souls to jump onto this part of the United Nations’ spectacular global vision with such verve, moxie, creativity, skill, and determination is nothing short of “having it going on.”
Your comments and suggestions are wanted! Find more information and ways you can get involved at