Remarks at the Our Ocean Conference High-Level Segment

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Valparaiso, Chile
October 5, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you, Madam Secretary-General. Thank you for your very personal and generous introduction. And Heraldo, thank you for making it so crystal clear not only how you personally are deeply committed to this effort, but also your country. And I again just want to say profoundly thank you for a very, very serious and comprehensive approach to the challenges that we face here.

I’m going to pick up where Heraldo left off, and I’d like to take just a few minutes to outline some of the solutions that the United States is pursuing. And I again want to reiterate, as I think I did this morning, we’re going to pick up what Heraldo has laid out and work with Heraldo together heading into next year. And one of the commitments that we will make is to bring more countries to the table than were in Washington or here. They need to be here. They need to be part of this. And I intend to commit a certain significant element of diplomatic effort in all of my bilaterals and travels through the course of the year to make sure that that responsibility that we’re articulating here is broadly shared.

As President Obama announced earlier, we are creating two new national marine sanctuaries in the United States, one off the coast of Maryland and one in Wisconsin along the Great Lakes. But we also have plans in the works which we are pursuing for still another significant one in the Atlantic, where we don’t have the kind of presence that we want and should, and we’re working with senators engaged in that particular area in order to make that happen. We had hoped to be able to get there; we have a few administrative challenges yet to get over, but I’m confident that we will.

In addition, we are working to finalize now a new sister marine protected area arrangement with Cuba in order to connect protected sites in our two countries so we can better collaborate on scientific research, education, and sound management. And we met in New York with President Castro; I met again with my counterpart, and we have agreed to meet in Cuba in January or February, when we will continue this march towards normalization, but importantly, cooperation on the oceans as well.

Over the summer, we joined other nations that surround the high seas area of the central Arctic Ocean – Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Russia – and together we signed a declaration to prevent any unregulated commercial fishing in that region.

But as I emphasized earlier and as you just heard from Heraldo, it’s one thing to announce these; it’s another to make sure that they actually stay protected, and that is in fact part of our responsibility, to make sure that these prohibitions are enforced.

Back in the 1990s, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska and I joined together to take driftnet fishing to the United Nations. You all are familiar – thousands, tens of thousands of miles of driftnet fishing would be laid out behind boats. And it would fish and often break off, and then it would ghost fish, which means it would continue to fish, it would get weighted down, it would go down to the bottom; predators would eat, it would rise again and fish again. And this ghost fishing would go on in a terrible cycle of the slaughter – it literally strip-mined the ocean. Much of the fishing that takes place today – approximately two-thirds to 50 percent of the fish catch is just thrown overboard. They don’t use it. It goes back into the ocean, but it goes back dead.

So we stopped that at the United Nations. But to my chagrin, it’s one thing to have stopped it in name at the United Nations; it’s another to have the enforcement in the areas where on the open oceans it still goes on. And so we have rogue fishermen from certain countries particularly, and we know who they are and we need to engage them very directly, and there needs to be a new era of responsibility regarding this – and a new era, by the way, of naming and shaming and of accountability. I think we owe it to people to give them notice first. But thereafter, we need to hold fishermen who still use driftnets accountable.

And all of this has to change. How? How will it change? That is part of our commitment going forward.

There are three major ways that we believe we can improve high seas enforcement: increased tracking and surveillance, better technology, and more effective international cooperation and surveillance and apprehension. Today, I’m pleased to announce some of the steps that we are taking in all of these fronts.

Last year, we announced a program to track seafood from harvest to production to entry into U.S. ports, so we can know for certain that seafood sold in our country is legally harvested. Later this month, we will officially launch that program’s first phase in operation, which will trace several marine species, including shrimp, cod, and tuna, that are especially at risk of being caught illegally or mislabeled. And tracking this initial set of species will help us to prepare to track all seafood sold on the shores of the United States by 2017.

We’re also proud of a new initiative in the Asia Pacific called the USAID Oceans, a five-year, $20 million effort to promote sustainable marine fisheries in and to help monitor seafood fraud in that part of the world.

In addition, the United States is investing in technology that will help us get a better sense of human activity in even the most remote parts of the ocean. We’re enhancing the sensors on our satellites to detect the kind of night lights used by fishermen to attract fish, which will help us identify and stop potentially illegal or unsustainable fishing practices. We’ve already demonstrated this technology in Indonesia, and next year we will be implementing the system in five pilot countries along with training and technical support for local officials.

But one of the most important changes we can make is to deepen the level of overall international coordination so we can identify, interdict, and prosecute those who pursue unacceptable fishing practices. Today, various nations are working hard to track and address illegal fishing, but the fact is no nation is currently capable of policing the entire range of the oceans. On the other hand, we have an obligation to make certain that no square kilometer of ocean is beyond the law. We’re determined to try to do that, and we’re going to use this next year to build that towards a broader system that can be in effect hopefully as we come out of next year and into 2017.

With that in mind, I am pleased to announce the launch of a new initiative called Sea Scout. And Sea Scout is aimed at integrating all existing and emerging technologies for use all over the world, and linking responsible entities and agencies around the world. More broadly, its goal is to enhance coordination, information sharing, and capacity building from pole to pole and across the equator. And we will start by focusing on regional hot spots – part of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea, for example – where IU fishing – IUU fishing is known to have – be most rampant and where our respective enforcement assets can be most efficiently directed and deployed.

Already today, New Zealand, Palau, Chile, and the FAO, others are – have said that they will join Sea Scout, and we obviously are going to invite every nation to become part of this integrated effort, which in a world of virtual reality and instant communication is absolutely plausible. The more international partners involved, the more successful it’s going to be. So I urge all of you in both the public and the private sectors, get involved in whatever way you can and help to think about the ways in which certain technologies and practices can be put to use so we can marshal the forces of law enforcement communities around the world to actually make these laws have greater impact.

I’ll just quickly share one last important project the United States is undertaking in the coming year. We’re investing more than half a billion dollars in a new U.S. Ocean Observatories Initiative. We’re commissioning a system of moorings, gliders, and autonomous underwater vehicles – equipped with nearly 800 instruments – to collect data such as pH, oxygen levels, transmission of carbon dioxide between the ocean and the atmosphere, and concentration of phytoplankton. And we’ll be putting all of the information that we collect online – much of it in real time – so that the public or anybody who wants to can better understand ocean acidification and other changes taking place – and ultimately, better address and adapt to them.

Now, these are just a few of the many new projects that we’re working on. You’ll hear about others as the conference continues.

But in closing, let me just say that as we go into next year, obviously we want to build on this, and I cannot say enough about how impressive what Heraldo has done and what Chile has done to get us where we are today. We all need to build on it every year. Long after I’m Secretary of State, I hope we will be coming together to celebrate the success of all the work that we have done through years.

But we cannot put anything on the backburner as we leave here. We have to go to Paris, as Heraldo said; we have to continue to use every opportunity.

And I know there are several others waiting to make their commitments known and I want to hear from them, but I can’t thank everybody enough for engaging in this. This is really critical to our responsibility to future generations and to ourselves, and I thank everybody for taking part. Thank you. (Applause.)