Our Ocean: Next Steps on Sustainable Fishing and Marine-Protected Areas

John Kerry
Secretary of State
New York City, DC
September 25, 2014

Well, Cathy, thank you very much. First of all, thank you for your tremendous organizational skill in putting together the Oceans – Our Ocean summit that we had in Washington, and we welcome the follow-on by Foreign Minister Munoz in Chile. We very much look forward to that meeting, and I’ve already announced that the United States will happily then pick up again and do the follow-on, and we look to another nation after that. We need to keep track of what is happening with respect to our oceans. And it is only through follow-up and accountability that ultimately we’re going to be able to achieve something. We cannot come together, share a lot of words, good aspirations, but then it sort of vanishes into the atmosphere without the kind of follow-up that makes things happen. So that’s why being here this morning is so important. It’s a follow-on to the Our Ocean summit.

I know it’s a very busy week for everybody here, obviously. I thank my cohosts, Foreign Minister Baloi of Mozambique, and Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization Jose Graziano da Saliva, and I’m very, very grateful for their partnership in this effort and for all of you being here.

The last time we were together was in Washington where we discussed the health and viability of the ocean. And it was in June of this year when we were proud to host the first global Our Ocean conference at the State Department. And the reason I convened that conference is the same reason that I’ve asked all of you to be here today. The fact is that the connection between a healthy ocean and life itself for every single person on Earth simply cannot be overstated. It’s – there is nothing that we share so completely, all of us, as the ocean that covers this planet. And I literally remember the first time that I grasped that notion.

It was in the early 1970s when the very first color pictures of Earth from space were published. Many of you may remember the same impression of the famous blue marble photographs. And when you look at those images, you don’t see any borders delineating continents and nations, one nation from another. What you see is this – blotches of green surrounded completely by blue. And for me, that image really sharpened the realization of the oceans all interconnected, and of the fact that about three-quarters of the planet is covered by ocean. The Earth itself, the land mass, is the minority of this planet. And because we share nothing so completely as our ocean, each of us shares the responsibility also to take care of it.

At the conference in June, we focused on three major threats that now exist facing the ocean today. And I know from my own experience, when you go down to the beach and you’re looking at the ocean, you watch the waves pouring in and it just seems endless and all-powerful. It doesn’t seem possible that these vast expanses somehow could be affected. But the truth is, increasingly, we know through science that human beings, just as we are having a profound impact on the atmosphere, we are having a profound impact on the oceans – partly by overfishing, partly by polluting, and partly through what we put into the atmosphere that then comes down and goes into the ocean and changes the ecosystem through acidification, which is dangerous.

So there are disturbing changes in the ocean’s chemistry and these chemistry changes are the result of climate change which is taking place, and obviously the overfishing. There’s just too much money chasing too few fish. And fisheries have to be sustainable. We nearly wiped out the striped bass population in New England a number of years ago. And when we became aware of that, we literally had to ban fishing. We stopped it altogether for about 10 years or more. And we brought it back. Now kids can go out and catch a striped bass with their parents or – you have the ability – we have limits on the size. But it took sustainable practices to be able to bring that fishery back. We haven’t been so lucky yet with the cod fishery or with other fisheries.

And similarly across the planet, people are seeing this kind of effort. And as the population goes from about 7 billion people up to 9 billion people, huge numbers of whom depend on these fisheries for their protein, we are challenged. When people order seafood from a restaurant, most of the time they don’t connect the fact that a third of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited. They don’t think about the connection of that particular fish to how it got to be there and to what may have happened in the process.

Most people are not aware of something called bycatch. The fact is that anywhere from one half to two-thirds of the catch of the fishermen, when they go out to professionally catch, winds up being what they were looking for. And it just gets thrown overboard. So you have this massive killing that takes place without even use. And obviously, that is profoundly disturbing. A lot of people don’t focus on the fact that half of the world’s population – half – depends on fish as a significant source of animal protein. But if we don’t start to take better care of the fisheries and marine areas, that will not be able to be true much longer.

So our mission here is clear. We need to put an end to overfishing by ensuring that every fish that makes it to market is caught legally in a way that’s reported and traceable. And we need to do a better job of protecting our ocean’s fish stocks, which play a critical role in economic security for millions of family and in food security for millions more.

The conference in June was a great start, but it’s only a start. It resulted in commitments of more than $800 million towards ocean conservation and in the protection of more than three million square kilometers of the ocean. But as I said, that’s only the start. I’m proud to tell you that the United States has not stopped working on this since that time, and I want to give you two examples of what we’ve been working on quickly.

First, we’ve been laser-focused on moving the Port State Measures Agreement forward. And the countries which sign on as parties to this treaty will commit to taking basic but effective steps to ensure that illegally caught fish cannot make it up the market chain to their – through their ports. Here in the United States, we’re working very closely with Congress to get the necessary legislation passed to join the agreement as quickly as possible. And I know many of you are working hard within your own governments to do the same. So let’s accept the responsibility of getting that done this year. That should be something we take on.

Second, we’re committed to protecting more of the ocean. And today, between 1 to 3 percent of the world’s ocean is part of a marine protected area or a marine reserve. That’s it – 1 to 3 percent. And that’s why today President Obama will sign a proclamation expanding the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument significantly and create one of the largest maritime protected areas in the world. And we’re talking about an area of ocean that’s nearly twice the size of Texas, and that will be protected in perpetuity from commercial fishing and other resource-extraction activities, like deep-water mining.

But despite these steps, we approach this pretty clear-eyed. Agreements won’t matter if no one’s enforcing them. And MPAs are not going to be effective if no one’s monitoring them. And the kind of enforcement that we’re going to need is going to take training; it’s going to take resources. So one of the things that I’d like to focus on today, which I think is important, is how can we build the capacity on a global scale to know what’s happening?

A number of years ago, Senator Ted Stevens and I took the issue of driftnet fishing to the United Nations. The United Nations banned driftnet fishing. But everybody knows there are boats out there still dropping illegal driftnets, which are tens of thousands of miles of monofilament netting, and sometimes it breaks off and then it becomes a ghost fishing. It actually fishes until it gets laden with the carcasses of the fish it traps in its netting, it sinks to the bottom, scavengers clean it up, it rises again, and fishes once more. So there’s this unvirtuous cycle, which threatens all of us, as a result of people who break the law, people who have no respect and want to fill those big 747s and send them over to one country or another to fill the appetite. And we need to deal with that.

I think the fact that so many different countries and organizations are represented here demonstrates how people on every continent from every walk of life have a stake in the future of our ocean. And I’m particularly grateful to Foreign Minister Munoz and the Government of Chile, which has already committed to host this second annual Our Ocean Conference in Chile next year. It’s going to be a terrific opportunity for all of us to mark our progress, to hold ourselves accountable, and to think about the next steps that we can take in order to be more effective.

This really is a matter of stewardship. It’s also a matter of generational responsibility. We have a responsibility to make sure our kids and their families and the future has the same ocean to serve it in the same way as we have – not to be abused, but to preserve and utilize.

So I thank everybody for coming and being part of this, and now back to Cathy. (Applause.)