As we slowly emerge from one of the most crippling economic crises of our time, economic growth and job creation is a priority for all governments. Europe's maritime and marine sector offers a solution: the 'blue economy' employs approximately 5.4 million people, generating almost €500bn a year - income and jobs that form the backbone of many of the EU's 439 coastal regions' economies.
The European commission's plans to find an EU approach to unleashing the sector's potential is therefore welcome - we just must ensure we focus on supporting entrepreneurship and make the most of public-private partnerships.
The blue economy is much more than an activity out at sea - it can help not only economic growth, but also resolve resource scarcity and improve food safety. Consequently, it is crucial we improve our knowledge, use measurements based on common EU indicators and exchange information between different countries or regions.
The blue economy extends well beyond operations in our seas and oceans. It affects many economic activities including aquaculture, coastal tourism, shipping, energy, tourism and fisheries. It also affects transport, offshore oil and gas and other sectors.
While this diversity can make a definition of performance indicators challenging, its development is vital to measure and facilitate progress. It will ensure we take the most effective actions and help drive forward innovation and competition.
Connecting businesses and research is crucial to unlocking the potential of our blue economy. Connecting business and research will drive forward innovation and competition. We need to create a 'knowledge and innovation community', which will develop skills and encourage the transfer of ideas from marine research to the private sector.
This can support business oriented research and show we are serious about innovation. Businesses should be given a greater say in identifying research needs as well as in formulating norms, standards and business-friendly solutions.
The gathering and availability of sea and ocean data is another important aspect of 'blue' growth. We need a better picture of the state of our seas to find ways to unlock its potential.
Developing the blue economy through public-private partnerships can contribute to the gathering of data and facilitate the exchange of information. This can bring huge benefits for the labour market, improving health and the quality of food production.
Nevertheless, collecting and sharing marine information should not create additional administrative burdens for local governments. To improve cooperation, we need to emphasise the vital role of public-private partnerships in well-defined areas in cooperation with regions in blue growth.
The commission's plans to increase SME participation in the blue economy should be backed by adequate financial assistance. The need for funding is particularly visible in aquaculture sector - 90 per cent of it is made up of microbusinesses, which are capable of generating the desired level of innovation.
While economic growth is both necessary and desirable, it must not lead to the degradation of the natural environment. The importance of a clean and healthy marine environment cannot be understated and we need to draw up plans to remove military material leftovers and chemical waste dumped at sea.
Over time, the steady interest of the EU in 'blue' growth will lead to the gradual awareness of the importance of public-private partnerships, better involvement of regional authorities and bring significant improvements in business-oriented research. This will promote economic prosperity, improve energy-efficiency and food production safety and protect our environment.