The Economic Importance
of the Bay

Blue Crabs. By Carrie Grisham.
The 2009 dockside value of the Chesapeake blue crab harvest Bay-wide was approximately $78 million. Photo by Carrie Grisham.

A Healthy Bay Means a Healthy Economy

“The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and biodiversity . . . that’s all there is. That’s the whole economy. That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world.”    

—U.S. Senator and Founder of Earth Day Gaylord Nelson


The protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its streams and rivers are essential to a healthy and vibrant economy. The Bay provides countless opportunities and dollars in regards to its fishing, tourism, real estate, and shipping industries. Furthermore, working to restore this vital resource helps spur job growth and protect the countless livelihoods that depend on the Bay's health. Quite simply, failure to "Save the Bay™" threatens the Bay's value as an economic driver. Conversely, investing in clean-water technology creates jobs, generates economic activity, and saves money in the long run.

Clean-Water Technologies Create Jobs and Stimulate Local Economies

It's becoming more and more apparent that working to restore the Bay actually creates jobs and supports livelihoods rather than hinders the region’s economic growth as many would have you believe:

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s annual costs for clean air and water regulations from October 1, 1999, to September 30, 2009, ranged from $26 to $29 billion, while benefits ranged from $82 to $533 billion (World Resources Institute);
  • Approximately, 20,000 construction jobs are created by each $1 billion invested on water and wastewater projects (Clean Water Council);
  • The number of environmental industry jobs in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia has surged by 43 percent over the last two decades (Environmental Business International);
  • Every $1 of state/federal funding invested in agricultural best management practices would generate $1.56 in economic activity in Virginia (University of Virginia study);
  • The federal Clean Water Act alone spurs construction projects that are worth at least $11 billion per year to the national economy (EPA);
  • The U.S. environmental industry is worth $312 billion yearly (Environmental Business International).

The Bay's Fisheries and Seafood Industry

Five-hundred million pounds of seafood are harvested each year from the Chesapeake Bay supporting the region's livelihoods and ways of life. In fact, the 2009 Fisheries Economics of the U.S. report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicates that the commercial seafood industry in Maryland and Virginia contributed $3.39 billion in sales, $890 million in income, and almost 34,000 jobs to the local economy.

  • Oysters: The Chesapeake is one of very few places left in the world where an industry exists based on harvesting oysters from the wild. Over the last three decades, Maryland and Virginia have suffered more than $4 billion in cumulative annual losses because of the decline of industries related to oyster harvesting. Likewise, harvests have fallen to less than one percent of historic levels. Rebuilding oyster populations would stimulate economic growth.
  • Blue Crabs: Just like the oyster, the blue crab is critical to the Chesapeake's culture and economy. Chesapeake Bay watermen supply as much as a third of the nation's blue crabs each year. And the average commercial harvest in Maryland and Virginia between 2000 and 2009 was more than 55 million pounds each year! In 2009, the dockside value of the blue crab harvest Bay-wide was approximately $78 million. Further, the decline of crabs in the Bay between 1998 and 2006 has meant a cumulative loss of about $640 million to Maryland and Virginia (Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences). 
  • Striped Bass (a.k.a. Rockfish): Striped bass remain the most popular commercial and recreational finfish in the Bay, generating roughly $500 million in economic activity related to fishing expenditures, travel, lodging, and so on each year ("The Economics of Recreational and Commercial Striped Bass Fishing").  

Tourism and Nature-Based Recreation Industries

The facts speak for themselves:

  • According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC), nearly two million people go fishing in Pennsylvania each year, contributing more than $1.6 billion to the economy;
  • Roughly $2.03 billion and 32,025 jobs are generated each year in Maryland due to its recreational boating industry (Economic Impact of Maryland Boating in 2007 report);
  • Pennsylvanians spend $1.7 billion on boating annually (PFBC);
  • The average expenditure per recreational boater each year is $274 (PFBC); 
  • A 2001 study compared the 1996 water quality of the Bay with what it would have been without the Clean Water Act. Results indicated that benefits of water-quality improvements to annual recreational boating, fishing, and swimming ranged from $357.9 million to $1.8 billion ("Benefits of Water Quality Policies: The Chesapeake Bay");
  • Roughly eight million wildlife watchers spent $636 million, $960 million, and $1.4 billion in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, respectively, on trip-related expenses and equipment in 2006 (U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Commerce);
  • Americans take more than 900 million trips to coastal areas annually and spend approximately $44 billion during these trips (EPA).

Clean Waterways Increase Property Values

  • An EPA study indicated that clean water can increase the value of a single family home 4,000 feet or closer to the shoreline by up to 25 percent;
  • A 2000 study concluded that improvements in water quality along Maryland's western shore to levels that meet state bacteria standards could raise property values by six percent (Journal of Environmental Economics and Management); 
  • The City of Philadelphia estimates that green stormwater infrastructure in the city will raise property values for homes near green spaces (Philadelphia Water Department).

Meet Marcus Irving

MG County stormwater worker Marcus Irving. Photo by Tom Pelton/CBF Staff.
"It's a beautiful thing for me to be working again, feeling like an adult again, and putting food on the table for my family," says Marcus Irving, a worker for Highway and Safety Services, Inc., who is helping build stormwater pollution-control devices along major roads. Photo by Tom Pelton/CBF Staff.

Marcus Irving, a 34-year-old father of two, had been out of work for eight months. "It was extremely tough, living day to day," Irving says. But then, with the help of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and the charge to clean up the Bay, Irving found a job working construction with Highway and Safety Services, Inc., to build stormwater pollution-control devices along major roads in Montgomery County, Maryland. "It's a beautiful thing for me to be working again and putting food on the table for my family," says Irving.

Stormwater control projects like this one could create 36,000 temporary construction jobs across Maryland over the next five years, as well as 10,000 jobs in the District of Columbia, 80,000 jobs in Pennsylvania, and 35,000 jobs in Virginia, according to a 2011 estimate by the Economic Policy Institute and an advocacy group called Green for All. Talk about spurring the economy …

See how Irving and many others have now found work because of efforts to achieve the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint in our investigative report, Debunking the "Job Killer" Myth; How Pollution Limits Encourage Jobs in the Chesapeake Bay Region.

A Save Bay = More Recreation worth $1 Billion per year
Click for more infographics about the value of a saved Bay.

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