Canadian Ocean Accounts Pilot

Resources and projects Jul 16, 2020

Fisheries and Oceans Canada/Statistics Canada: July 2021,_British_Columbia,_Canada_21.jpg
East Sooke Regional Park, British Columbia


The ocean is an essential component of the Earth’s climate and ecosystems, contributing enormously to our culture, society and economy. Yet we allow the ocean to become polluted, overexploited, acidified, warmed and used unsustainably.

Vital information and data about the ocean to undertake meaningful analysis is either incomplete or fragmented, and nationally coherent indicators to support evidence based policy analysis are seldom available. Ocean Accounts are based on the premise that developing a standard approach to measure the environmental, economic and social aspects of the ocean will support integrated decision making to encourage sustainable use.

The Ocean Accounts Framework

An international coalition of science, statistics and policy experts, led by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)[1], has developed an Ocean Accounts Framework. The framework is built upon existing statistical standards such as the System of National Accounts (SNA)[2]  and the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA).[3] The SNA is used by all countries to measure economic production. The SEEA is being used by over 60 countries to standardize measures of environment-economy linkages. The SEEA has proven instrumental in harmonizing and prioritizing the collection of environmental statistics in other domains (land, freshwater, energy, waste, ecosystems, etc.). As noted in a recent Nature editorial[4]on achieving global biodiversity targets: asking statistics offices to take responsibility for collecting and reporting environmental data “was a stroke of genius”.

The experience in developing SEEA for other domains is invaluable in the development of the SEEA for the ocean. The revision of SEEA Ecosystem Accounting[4]was approved as an international statistical standard by the United Nations Statistical Commission in March 2021. It includes a section describing the Ocean Accounts Framework and its linkages to SEEA. While still being developed and tested, the Ocean Accounts framework has been used as the basis for several national pilot studies[6], including Canada and Australia.[7]

Canada has been a member of this international coalition since its inception and has become a member of the Global Ocean Accounts Partnership (GOAP).[8] GOAP was established in 2019 to encourage collaboration among international agencies, national governments and researchers to “Organize blue data and statistics for sustainable development”.

The Canadian Pilot

The Canadian Ocean Accounts pilot was established as a collaborative project of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Canada and Statistics Canada (STC) in early 2019. With a budget of approximately $1 million over four years, the Canadian pilot supports the commitments outlined in the Charlevoix blueprint for healthy oceans, seas and resilient coastal communities[9]made under Canada’s G7 Presidency and more recently, as part of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (HLP).[10]The HLP is committed to developing a complete sequence of national Ocean Accounts by the national statistical offices, in partnership with marine agencies, the details of which are outlined in the Blue Paper on “National Accounting for the Ocean and Ocean Economy”.[11] This commitment was reinforced in the transformational agenda where the High Level Panel calls on ocean states to secure ocean health and wealth for generations to come, including the development and integration of Ocean Account into national accounts that go beyond the traditional economic development indicator of GDP.

This pilot is based on many earlier successful joint projects, such as the Measurement of Ecosystem Goods and Services (MEGS).[12]  MEGS had already published data on fisheries biomass and landings by region, as well as fishery employment by area.

STC leverages its experience in compiling SNA and SEEA accounts[13], integrating fragmented data and establishing new socio-economic data collection when required. DFO collects and analyzes volumes of scientific[14], economic[15]and commercial fishing[16]data. The two departments initially scoped the availability of relevant data in the light of Canada’s ocean-related policy objectives such as the Oceans Act[17], Species At Risk Act [18], and the Fisheries Act.[19]

Initial findings were that (a) much data and research were available, but required inventorying, harmonization, gap analysis and inter-sectoral cooperation, (b) advanced work was already ongoing on measuring the ocean economy that could benefit from improved data and (c) several initiatives including the Blue Economy Strategy, Marine Spatial Planning and the establishment of Marine Protected Areas, Marine Protected Area networks, and other effective area-based conservation measures, could benefit from applying international standards on measuring market and non-market services.

To date, the structure for the Canadian Ocean Accounts has been defined, an assessment of data holdings has been undertaken, and the existing marine economy accounts have been expanded to fit within the Ocean Accounts framework.

In April 2021, DFO and STC co-organized the GOAP “Second Global Dialogue on Ocean Accounting”.[20] This was an online meeting with presentations from experts around the world, including updates on pilot studies and new related research.

Current work at STC is concentrating on creating initial national accounts of ocean and coastal ecosystem extent and condition. This includes four key ecosystems, seagrass meadows, kelp forest, coldwater coral and sponge reefs, and saltmarshes, as well as data on sea surface temperature, salinity and sea ice. The results will be published as part of STC Human Activity and Environment[21]in fall of 2021. Furthermore, an updated version of DFO’s Marine Economy Accounts was published in EnviroStats[22]in July 2021.

DFO in collaboration with University of British Columbia (UBC) has invested approximately $175K in a two-year project to provide a first overview of blue carbon stocks in eelgrass beds along the Canadian coastline. More specifically, the project aims to estimate the blue carbon storage capacity of Canada’s eelgrass beds, map eelgrass extent, estimate carbon stocks and create a blue carbon map, providing original data to Canada’s Ocean Accounts. To date, a national eelgrass map with habitat presence and extent has been developed. Carbon stocks are being measured and will be overlaid to create a blue carbon map. The proposed work would lay the foundation to further extend the estimates of carbon stocks for seagrass in general. The final results of this research will be available in 2022.


Cross-sectoral coordination is always a challenge. The project is not attempting to change the way people achieve their mandates but is offering an opportunity to better integrate across activities. Locating and acquiring data is an ongoing need, as is assessing the new data and integrating them given differences in characteristics and methodology. Furthermore, implementing a new approach requires familiarity with a variety of knowledge areas including ecology, economics, spatial analysis and policy analysis. This requires enhancing technical capacity across these sectors. Raising awareness of the benefits of ocean accounting is also ongoing. Agreement on key parameters both nationally and internationally would be extremely helpful as the accounts are developed.

The future

The project has contributed to the development of the Ocean Accounts Technical Guidance document, which is being revised. Participation in various international activities and support to international initiatives such as the development of SEEA Oceans and the participation in the OECD’s experimental ocean economy satellite account project will continue not only to showcase the Ocean Accounts pilot, but also to discuss collaboration with a range of Canadian and international stakeholders.

Who we are

Radu Anghel, Director, Economics, Statistics, and Data Governance Directorate, DFO

Zeba Ali, Manager, Economics, Statistics, and Data Governance Directorate, DFO

François Soulard, Chief, R&D Section, Environmental Accounts and Statistics Program, STC

Michael Bordt, Senior Economic Advisor, Ocean Accounts, Economics, Statistics, and Data Governance Directorate, DFO

Jessica Andrews, Senior Research Analyst, Environment and Energy Statistics, STC

Tasha Rabinowitz, Junior analyst, Environment and Energy Statistics, STC

Gisele Magnusson, Senior Economist, Economic Analysis and Statistics Directorate, DFO

Messan Agbaglah, Senior Economist, Economics, Statistics, and Data Governance Directorate, DFO

Claire Cazorla, Research Assistant, Economic Analysis and Statistics Directorate, DFO

Ruby Sarkar, Economic Analyst, Economic Analysis and Statistics Directorate, DFO

Alejandro DeMaio-Sukic, Director, Economics, Statistics, and Data Governance Directorate, DFO

Amanda Stamplecoskie, Manager, Economics, Statistics, and Data Governance Directorate, DFO

Todd Crawford, Senior Economist, Economics, Statistics, and Data Governance Directorate, DFO

Additional Documentation

Overview of the Canadian Ocean Accounts pilot bibliographic research

Ocean assets in Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) Science Advisory Reports from 2015 to 2020


[1] ESCAP Regional Ocean Accounts Platform:

[2] UN Statistics System of National Accounts:

[3] UN Statistics System of Environmental Economic Accounting:

[4] Nature, The United Nations must get its new biodiversity targets right:

[5] UN Statistics System of Environmental Economic Accounting – Ecosystem Accounting:

[6] ESCAP pilot studies in China, Malaysia, Samoa, Thailand and Vietnam:

[7] Australian Government, Ocean Accounts:

[8] The Global Ocean Accounts Partnership:

[9] Government of Canada, Charlevoix blueprint for healthy oceans, seas and resilient coastal communities:

[10] High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy:

[11] Blue Paper on “National Accounting for the Ocean and Ocean Economy”:

[12] Statistics Canada, Human Activity and the Environment; Measuring Ecosystem Goods and Services:

[13] Statistics Canada, Canadian System of Environmental-Economic Accounting:

[14] DFO, State of Canada’s Oceans:

[15] DFO, Marine sectors in Canada summary tables:

[16] DFO, Canada’s sustainable fisheries:

[17] Justice Canada, Oceans Act:

[18] Justice Canada, Species at Risk Act:

[19] Justice Canada, Fisheries Act:

[20] Second Global Dialogue on Ocean Accounting:

[21] Statistics Canada, Human Activity and the Environment:

[22] Statistics Canada, EnviroStats: