World Bank Group

03/24/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 03/24/2021 08:54

Blue Economy: How Can Albania Benefit?

Interview with Berengere Prince, Lead Natural Resources Management Specialist, and Drita Dade, Senior Natural Resource Management Specialist at the World Bank, on the potentials of the Blue Economy in Albania. Originally published on March 22 in Monitor magazine in Albania.

For centuries, mankind has exploited the seas and oceans as endless goods. But time has shown that a healthy balance must be set between exploitation and protection, and those countries that have reflected early have benefited. Albania is a country not benefiting in its potential yet from the Blue Economy. Although the dynamic development and significant contribution to the economy, tourism has still areas that can be filled, while fishing shows problems that need to be addressed. But how can our country maximize the benefit from the Blue Economy?

The World Bank has recently published the report 'Realizing the potential of the Blue Economy in Albania. What do you mean by the Blue Economy concept?

Berengere Prince
World Bank: The Blue Economy refers to the sustainable and integrated development of economic sectors in healthy oceans and seas. According to The Economist, it occurs when economic activity is in balance with the long-term capacity of ocean ecosystems to support this activity and remain resilient and healthy. Essentially, the Blue Economy concept is a lens by which to view and develop policy agendas that simultaneously enhance ocean health and economic growth, in a manner consistent with principles of social equity and inclusion.

Why is there attention on the Blue economy, and what are the opportunities it presents for a country like Albania?

Drita Dade
WB: Oceans and seas protect biodiversity, provide jobs, food, drive economic growth, keep the planet cool, and absorbs about 30% of global CO2 emissions. At least 3-5% of global GDP is derived from oceans-but their overall health is reaching a tipping point. Historically, coastal and marine sectors (including fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, shipping, construction) have been developed in a rather isolated manner and with little consideration for the finite and fragile aspect of the ocean resources. This has often severely deteriorated the coastal and marine environments throughout the world: fish stocks are depleted; fragile ecosystems and habitats are destroyed; coasts are eroding, etc. These issues are compounded by pollution from inland sources that end up on the coast or in the ocean, as well as climate change. Together they pose an increasing threat to the health of the coastal and marine ecosystems and to populations that rely on them.

In this context, countries around the world are increasingly adopting Blue Economy as a winning strategy.

In Albania, the Adriatic-Ionian coast is one of the most important zones of the national territory because of its position, natural values, biodiversity significance, and cultural and historical heritage. It is already a vital part of the national economy that contributes hugely to the country's economic growth and employment. It still has the potential to contribute more, especially in fisheries and tourism. Both industries are well established and offer the highest potential return on investment within a Blue Economy. The recent World Bank report reflects Albania's specific circumstances and the opportunities arising from integrated economic development of maritime sectors, including branding a 'Blue Albania' vision that could serve as a blueprint for future innovations in these sectors.

Tourism is one of the sectors that has witnessed dynamic growth in recent years, but there are still shortcomings that you have noted in your report, such as the development of maritime and nautical tourism. What should be done to promote these areas and what are the expected benefits they can brings to the sector and the economy as a whole?

WB: Tourism is indeed a key driver of Albania's growth and is expected to contribute even more to its economy in the future. In 2019 its direct and indirect contribution of tourism reached 21.2 percent of GDP and was responsible for more than 254 thousand jobs (WTTC 2020). The country is strategically located between highly developed marina locations such as Croatia, Montenegro, Italy and Greece. In addition, Albania has many cultural attractions, numerous archaeological sites, and great cuisine. Most importantly, Albania has huge potential to develop its berthing capacity, offer lower prices, and increase its share in the regional market. Today Albania represents only 0.5% of the Adriatic's total berthing capacity, despite having similar nautical conditions to its neighbors.

The report lists several measures to promote maritime and nautical tourism related to development of maritime or 'blue' clusters to connect tourism markets, yachtsmen, fishermen, food producers, harbor managers, and local business associations through a commercial network and logistics platform. In addition, improvements are needed to address regulatory and enforcement limitations and create an enabling framework for private investments in nautical tourism. Also, the critical infrastructure in this sector needs to be improved through, public and private investment projects, subject to robust economic and financial appraisal.

Expanding maritime and nautical tourism within a Blue Economy framework will generate new jobs and ensure an environmentally sustainable, culturally acceptable, and economically viable growth. If developed strategically, it has the potential to improve links with agriculture (through provisioning of food for the yachts and sailboats and culinary tourism) and with inland tourism (as people often enjoy getting off their yachts and sailboats to experience activities on land). Branding Albania as a blue, environmentally friendly tourism destination will also spillover on the country's products for export, including seafood for instance.

Albania has several concession contracts for marina and yachts port projects - an areas of tourism that is very underdeveloped in the country. What can be done to encourage this activity, at a time when yachts come to Albania only for very short visits or to benefit from cheap oil?

WB: The coastline between Vlora and Saranda offers at least five different types of economic opportunities that could be tapped by the industry. These activities include visits to archaeological sites, eno-gastronomic tours and activities, diving, hiking trails, and educational awareness trips.

Fisheries are another sector that has been identified in your report as having high potential, but the report also talks about the problems of exploitation of fish stocks and weak management in this sector. What is your view about the current situation of the fishery sector and what measures do you propose to leverage the opportunities there?

WB: The Albanian fisheries sector is not operating at its full potential due to the overexploitation of fish stock and low productivity of its production assets. It is estimated that 80% of fish stocks are overexploited, in part due to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and fleet overcapacity. The management of the fisheries sector needs to be improved and strengthened in line with the priorities of the National Fisheries Strategy and EU accession in order to reverse negative stock trends and adopt more sustainable practices.

Albania can boost the fisheries and aquaculture sector by taking advantage of export opportunities, in a context of a growing global seafood demand and a well-established domestic processing industry. The aquaculture production can be increased by facilitating the delivery of licenses, developing environmental and social standards, boosting research and development, and stimulating private investments. Increased national marine research capacity will help to advance the fisheries sector reform and growth.

Another good experience Albania can implement is improving fishers' marketing power through an electronic auction platform, which has several advantages over direct selling to a few customers: the buyer and the seller are put directly in touch. It is faster, efficient and allows for full transparency, fair competition between buyers and sellers. It attracts more buyers, yielding better prices and bringing the fish to the market faster. Photos and details of the catch are uploaded to the platform, and buyers (e.g., wholesalers, restaurants) place their order.

The report presents some interesting proposals for marine clusters and fisheries that promote the concepts of 'Eco,' 'Bio,' and 'Organic.' How can these concepts be realized in terms of supporting policies and how can they be an advantage for Albania?

WB: Maritime clusters and eco-labelling for fisheries ('Blue Albania') are indeed two major recommendations in our recent report.

These maritime clusters could be developed by embarking on a program to kick-start sailing holiday packages in the south to build up visitor confidence and gain valuable in-house experience in operational requirements. Also, proper marketing can help promote Albania's unique sailing package, linking it with natural and cultural assets. It is also important to build marine/nautical tourism offering and product, linking it to inland tourism ensuring proper infrastructure in order to accommodate further growth. Appropriate awareness and targeted advertising campaigns can help implementation of eno-gastronomic activities and cultural activities such as visits to museums, archaeological sites, and nature trails along the southern route and their marketing to nautical visitors.

Developing a 'Blue Albania' eco-labelling scheme for fisheries and aquaculture would allow the country to brand its seafood production, better compete with neighboring countries, target seafood market niches that benefit from a price premium and expand its market share. The demand for organic and socially fair products is a growing trend among Western consumers. In Albania, environmental labelling has also become more common both in the national development strategy and in the private sector's marketing schemes.

Marine pollution and plastics are two issues addressed in the report. How can these be addressed in order to minimize the use of plastics or improve waste management through an improved legal framework, incentive schemes for recycling, or discouraging the use of plastics?

WB: Marine and plastics pollution are indeed a big issue in Albania and is a major risk to the environment, the health of the population and the Blue Economy strategy of the country. Albania's ambition is to address the challenges of legacy and flow pollution in the coastal areas. A clean and healthy marine environment will remain a lifeline for Albania's marine-based sectors. Marine litter can be prevented through improved and increased recycling, avoidance of single-use products. Other helpful steps are the use of alternatives to plastic and eco-design (for example, plastic products designed to prevent littering, avoiding intentional use of microplastics in products) and through intensive education and awareness actions and campaigns.

Marine plastic litter in Albania cannot be resolved by one policy or measure alone. It will take well-coordinated and sequenced actions to curb plastic leakage. A whole-system approach should divert plastic waste from landfills, recognizing its economic value as a material that can be reused. While it is important to acknowledge flaws in the waste management system, the critical issue is to prevent the generation of plastic waste through investments in upstream solutions. Our report offers a detailed list of policy measures and actions to protect the marine environment from plastic pollution in a coastal country such as Albania.