Opening Remarks to the Global Oceans Action Summit for Food Security and Blue Growth

John Kerry
Secretary of State
The Hague, Netherlands
April 24, 2014

Good morning. I’m very sorry I can’t be with you in the Netherlands this week, but I am very pleased to offer a few thoughts from Washington as the Global Oceans Action Summit continues. To start, let me thank all of the Summit’s sponsors for bringing together so many influential people – from so many different sectors – to discuss what is absolutely one of the most complex global challenges we face today: how we protect the ocean.

It’s certainly an appropriate week for the Summit to take place. This past Tuesday marked the 45th annual Earth Day. I still remember the very first Earth Day back in 1970, when more than 20 million Americans gathered in parks and schools, auditoriums to demand better care for our natural resources. I actually helped organize the efforts in my homes state of Massachusetts. Well the fact is, it’s impossible to care for our Earth without caring for the ocean that covers nearly three-quarters of Earth itself. And if you look at a map, you’ll see that no single country can claim the ocean as its own. It’s very clearly our ocean to share and that also means we share the responsibility to act as its steward.

I know that every one of you at the Summit understands this. And you know how much the ocean means to our economies, our well-being, and our entire way of life on Earth – and that’s true whether you’re talking about a community on the coast or one hundreds of miles from the nearest beach.

But you also know the extent to which the ocean is in deep trouble. First, we have record pollution that’s contributing to hundreds of dead zones around the globe places where life in the ocean simply can’t exist.

Second – yet another deeply troubling part of climate change – the ocean is absorbing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and that is changing the chemical makeup of the ocean and causing it to acidify and then eat away at coral reefs, shellfish, and more.

And third, today too much money is chasing far too few fish. I spent a lot of time examining this issue when I served as Chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Oceans and Fisheries Subcommittee. To a lot of people, the supply of fish just seems endless. You go to the restaurant, you order, you have no linkage to what’s really involved in putting that fish on your plate. But the fact is, almost one third of the world’s fish stocks are currently overexploited, and most of the others are fished at the absolute maximum levels. That’s the definition of unsustainable. Obviously, this is horrendous news for the hundreds of millions of families around the world who depend on income from fisheries to feed their children and pay their bills. But it’s also a major threat to global food security: More than one billion people rely on fish as their primary source of protein – most of these people live in the poorest, least developed countries, where other protein options are either too limited or too expensive for the average family to buy.

Now, addressing all of these challenges obviously isn’t easy. But the good news is, we know what kinds of steps we need to take if we want to honor our responsibility to leave behind a healthy and vibrant ocean for future generations.

With overfishing, for example, part of the problem is that a huge chunk of seafood caught around the world is obtained in ways that are illegal, unreported, or unregulated. So, one solution is to have government policies that only allow seafood into markets if there’s proof that the seafood was captured legally and in a way that you can trace. This would help us to level the playing field for honest fishermen – while at the same time protecting fish stocks around the world.

Ultimately, what we need is a new global ocean policy agenda. And the kind of clear and comprehensive agenda I’m talking about cannot be developed without the input of governments, the private sector, civil society leaders, and other stakeholders around the world.

That’s why I’m so grateful that the Global Oceans Action Summit is taking place. And that’s also why on June 16th and 17th, I’m convening a conference here at the State Department in Washington. I’m inviting international leaders from all different sectors to help build consensus around ways to better protect the ocean. And we really want as many people as possible to be involved in that effort – we’re going to stream the conference online and we will include a number of ways for folks to participate via social media.

My friends, protecting the ocean isn’t only an environmental issue. It’s an economic issue. It’s a global health issue. It’s a food security issue. And above all, it’s a moral responsibility. So I look forward to hearing what comes out of the Global Action Summit and then to carrying your ideas forward here at the State Department in June. We all need to work together on this challenge. The only way we can possibly meet the challenge, is for all of us to come together on a global basis and put in place policies that are sustainable. Thank you very much and I look forward to seeing many of you here in June hopefully.