Remarks at Oceana Global Fishing Watch Reception

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Long View Gallery
Washington, DC
September 14, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Hello, everybody.


SECRETARY KERRY: Ted, thank you very, very much. It is true, I met Ted when he was doing a little something at a place called Cheers up in Boston – (laughter) – and I actually got to be in a Cheers episode, if you want to know the truth, where Cliff and Norm met me as I was walking down the street, which I happened to live about five doors away from Cheers, and I was walking down the street. And so a producer said let’s do this little skit, and they made it up at the moment. And so I’m – I walk in and they pretend to recognize – they say oh man, you’re that guy. Can I get your autograph? I’ve got to get your autograph. And I’m a newly minted senator and I sign, start to sign. And they say yeah, we really loved that weather report you did the other day. (Laughter.) And I said no, no, no, no, I’m not the weather guy, I’m Senator Kerry. And they both go, oh, and they walk – (laughter) – and they walk away. So it was very funny.

But Ted had a passion for the ocean back then. We’re proud to call him a part-time resident of Massachusetts. He has a place out on Martha’s Vineyard, where truly people appreciate everything we’re here to protect in terms of the ocean. And Ted and Oceana – I am so grateful for their work and leadership, which has been enduring. Sometimes people come in and out of issues; sometimes people are there for a splash but you don’t see them again. Ted Danson has been steady. He’s been there for real. Oceana has, and I think every one of us want to say thank you very much for that. (Applause.)

I want to say a special thank you to the partners in this effort tonight as we come to think about the Global Fishing Watch and what it means, and I want to say a special thank you to Andy Sharpless and Jacqueline Savitz at Oceana. I want to say a special thanks to John Amos at SkyTruth, the CEO, and Brian Sullivan, the senior program manager at Google. All of them have been really creative in thinking about how do we use this world of technology that we have today, this extraordinary capacity for tracking things, for opening windows on things, for being able to communicate instantaneously. And they’ve really been creative, incredibly proactive, and it is going to be a part of what we’re talking about here over the course of the next two days, which is the Safe Oceans Network. And the Safe Oceans Network is a grouping now of partners, extraordinary partners – 40 partners, some 25 different governments coming together in order to try to find a way to create accountability.

Now, I will tell you, I have been part of this effort for a long period of time. You can’t help in Massachusetts but to come from a tradition of the ocean. Our state was founded on it. And guys, kill the teleprompter because I’m not using it and – (laughter) – there you go. They were chasing around trying to figure out what the hell I was saying. (Laughter.) And I’m actually up here thinking for myself. (Applause.) It’s kind of shocking in Washington. (Laughter.)

So I had the privilege of serving on the Commerce Committee and I was chairman of the Fisheries Subcommittee for quite a number of years, and in that capacity I rewrote with Senator Ted Stevens and others on the committee – the late Senator Stevens – the fishery laws of country several times – the Magnuson Act. And I became very aware what’s happening with longliners and trawlers and draggers and so forth, and dealt a great deal with the different fishery management councils of the country and learned the distinctions between what happens in the salmon fishery in the Northwest, in the tuna fishery in the Atlantic, you name it – billfish, run the gamut. And what Ted and I always lamented was there was not enough science so that we could convince captains of fishing vessels and so that we could get communities to begin to galvanize their actions and actually do something. And so we wrote more science in and we tried to unite people.

But when I became Secretary of State, I brought that 28-plus years of experience to the table, and I was determined to try to use my tenure as Secretary to focus on the oceans and fishing. But not just fishing, because the oceans, vast as it is as an entity – three-quarters of our planet, oceans – as vast as it is and as powerful as we all know it is, it’s fragile. It is threatened. And I just spoke to some of the folks over at the Pew Charitable Trust dinner and I mentioned how back in the early medieval ages, in the 1200s and 1300s, people were doing things to try to protect fisheries, and King Louis XIV – IV actually talked about and lamented what was happening in their rivers and the fisheries because of the size of nets and the contrivances that fishermen came up with to capture as much as they can.

So we live in a world today where, with billions of people and massive amounts of money, we have too much money chasing too few fish. And that is why one-third of all fisheries of the world are in extremis, overfished, and the other two-thirds are fished to capacity. And we see other threats combining to put a challenge to this fragile ecosystem such as we never imagined: massive amounts of chemicals, of nitrates, of overflow, of downstream point source pollution and non-point source pollution coming into the ocean. Every year now we’ve seen an increase in the number of dead zones around the planet. There are more than 500 of them now, places where nothing lives – nothing. One of them is right out at the mouth of the Mississippi River where all the detritus of nitrate work in the agriculture industry, whether it’s from the Ohio to the Missouri or the Missouri to the Mississippi, out the delta, and it just kills everything for a span of several hundred miles on either side. So we have to stop and connect to this.

We also have climate change changing things, because you have vast amounts of these greenhouse gases – CO2, et cetera – which come back, deposit a huge increase in acidity in the ocean. So we now have the highest level of acidity and the highest rate of increase of acidity in the ocean in 50 million years. And believe it or not, scientists have the ability to measure that.

And that acidity changes the capacity of particularly crustaceans to be able to grow. I’ve seen tests that show what happens with clams when they’re exposed to higher levels of pH, and you see the diminished size of the clams. So lobsters could conceivably lose the hard shell – I mean, you can run the list of these challenges – and none of them exaggerated, except perhaps to that small group of people in America who still block things from happening because they somehow believe that with global climate change and the melting of the ice and the rise of sea level, all that extra water is just going to spill over the sides of a flat Earth. (Laughter.)

Think about that for a minute, because we got some people at high levels of aspiration who are incapable of mentioning things like climate change. And that matters to us, I think.

So my bottom line is this, folks. We held the first-ever Our Oceans conference two years ago here in Washington, and I’m very proud that that connected with Chile, and Chile stood up and hosted the conference last year. We announced, by the way, at the same time we would host this year, the final year of the Obama Administration and my last chance to try to institutionalize this. But I’m proud to tell you that over the next two days you’re going to hear from other people who are prepared to take it out into the future, and this will be institutionalized. (Applause.)

And in addition to that, we are going to be learning more and more about the Global Fishing Watch component of the Safe Ocean Network, which is going to begin to do what governments should do, begin to protect people and protect the assets that matter on a generational basis to the future. What we’ve learned is that when you’re protecting the environment, there’s no final victory. It’s an ongoing battle.

But we’ve also learned that there can be a final defeat. You can destroy an ecosystem. We lost the fishing and the striped bass off Massachusetts for 10 years. We had a 10-year period where we allowed no fishing whatsoever in order to bring them back. So we also learned what you can do to protect it. That’s called sustainability. And what we need to do with the Global Fishing Watch and the joining with this network is grow this network so there is not one square mile of ocean where we cannot prosecute and hold people accountable who violate the standards of sustainability on a global basis. That’s the goal. (Applause.)

Illegal, unregulated, unreported fishing is not just a problem for fish. It’s a problem for human beings, because what happens is, like a young man from Cambodia who was lured into going to Thailand being told he was going to get a construction job, found himself with a shackle around his neck for two years on a small boat, a prisoner, a slave, fishing illegally in order to provide for that enormous amount of money demanding from those too few fish.

So human trafficking is part of this. Narcotics smuggling is part of this. Criminal enterprises moving and trafficking in guns. Because it’s all criminal activity. It’s all big money. It’s all under the table.

So an accountability needs to be created, and we believe that with this kind of effort we’re going to begin to be able to do that. And the one thing I’ll leave you with is this. When we began this effort in 2014, we had this thing called the Port State Measures Bill – Treaty. It’s an agreement which required 25 countries in order to go into effect. It is an agreement that begins to demand accountability for who’s coming in to port to sell fish, who – whether they’re licensed, whether they’re legal, where they were fishing, and whether or not they have caught those fish legally.

And as we begin to put positioning devices and other things on legitimate fishermen and get out there and then do patrols and other things, we will have accountability for fish. When we started, there were 10 countries in 2014 that had signed up that. We needed 25 in order to make it go into force. I’m proud to tell you that as we gather here in Washington for the 2016 Our Ocean conference, we have 60 countries that have signed up to the Port State Measures Treaty. (Applause.)

And that is the difference. I am convinced that if we continue to do our work tomorrow and the next day – President Obama will speak tomorrow – I am confident we will grow our marine protected areas, we will grow the commitments of money. We’ve raised – $4 billion have been committed in the last two Our Ocean conferences, and I believe tomorrow that we will add significantly to that as we march forward in order to do what we need to do to guarantee that, while there isn’t a final victory, we’re not going to have the final defeat. We are going to do what we need to do to live up to our responsibility to future generations, to this planet, and to life itself on this planet. Thank you all very much for being here. Thank you. (Applause.)