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Economic Importance


The majority of the US population lives near the coast, not just because the ocean is beautiful but because the ocean is a major hub of economic activity. The sea provides us with food and livelihoods along every coast of the United States and its territories. Commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries bring in many millions of pounds of fish -and dollars- each year to coastal communities. People also use the ocean and shoreline for boating, sightseeing, vacationing, and other recreational activities.

Despite the development of planes, trains, and automobiles, shipping is still the major means for transporting goods internationally, and many cities rely on their ports as a major source of revenue. The ocean is also valued for the natural resources that lie beneath the ocean floor. In the Gulf of Mexico alone there exists billions of dollars' worth of oil and natural gas.


Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)
As on land, the sea is crossed by boundary lines drawn by people for exploration and use of resources. Generally speaking, the water stretching 12 nautical miles directly off the shoreline is considered sovereign territory of the adjoining country, except that foreign ships (military and civilian) are allowed to pass through it. Tthe first 3 miles off the coast are state waters, meaning that each US state manages and controls use within their own region.

Beyond the territorial sea, is the area where countries have the right to manage and control marine affairs and resources, such as fishing, mineral extraction and oil drilling. This area of ocean, extending 200 nautical miles from a country’s coast, is called the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is an area of sea up to 200 nautical miles from a country’s coast.


The USA has jurisdiction over quite a lot of the world’s ocean. For example, the US EEZ surrounding the islands of Guam and the Northern Marianas, roughly 5,600 miles from the West Coast of the USA, is home to the Mariana Trench—the deepest place in the ocean. The US EEZ also contains water surrounding America Samoa in the Southern Hemisphere, portions of the Arctic Sea, waters off the Virgin Islands and the Puerto Rico Trench in the Caribbean Sea. In total, the USA has jurisdiction over more of the ocean than land. In fact, the USA has jurisdiction over more ocean than any other country, an area of 4,382,646 square miles (territorial waters plus EEZ).



Aleutian Islands
American Samoa
Georges Bank
Gulf of Mexico
Outer Banks



National Ocean Economics Program
Ocean Resources - Marinebio.org
Valuing coastal and ocean ecosystems
NOAA and the future of coastal and ocean economics
Exclusive Exonomic Zone - Wikipedia
Presidential Proclimation 5030 - creating the EEZ
Ocean Literacy

Oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: NOAA

Fishing boat. Photo: NOAA

Seattle harbor. Photo: NOAA