Ocean Policy and Practices

12:30 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: (In progress) to the New York Foreign Press Center. We are very honored to have with us today Catherine Novelli, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, and Heraldo Muñoz, the Foreign Minister of Chile. The under secretary and the foreign minister are here to preview the Ocean Conference that Chile is hosting next week. This briefing is on the record. After opening remarks, we will open the floor to questions from the media and conclude the press conference after journalists have had the opportunity to ask their questions. The under secretary and the foreign minister have agreed to remain after the official press conference to answer some questions from students. Journalists, please wait for the microphone, and state your name and media affiliation when you’re called upon.

Before I turn it over to Under Secretary Novelli, let’s watch a message from Secretary of State John Kerry that features Foreign Minister Muñoz:

SECRETARY KERRY: Growing up along the coast of Massachusetts, I developed a powerful connection to the ocean at a very early age. But it wasn’t until much later that I discovered how significant the ocean is to all of humankind.


SECRETARY KERRY: Last year I asked for your help in protecting our oceans, and I encouraged leaders around the world to take action. Together we are making progress. We’ve established new marine protected areas across the globe. Efforts to end illegal fishing and seafood fraud are gaining momentum. We’re raising awareness about how plastic waste harms our ocean, and we are working on solutions.

Many countries are cutting carbon emissions that cause ocean acidification.


SECRETARY KERRY: Show your support and make a commitment to leave behind a healthy and vibrant ocean for future generations. Recycle more and reduce the amount of plastic that you use. Only eat legally caught sustainable seafood. Reduce your carbon footprint to help stop ocean acidification and climate change.


SECRETARY KERRY: Que hara usted para ayudar a proteger nuestro oceano?

FOREIGN MINISTER MUÑOZ: Let us know on social media using #OurOcean2015.

MODERATOR: And with that, I’ll turn it over to Under Secretary Novelli.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Thank you very much. It is an absolute honor to be here today with Foreign Minister Muñoz. He and his government have shown incredible leadership on ocean issues, not just for this conference but all along the way. And I am really excited that both the Secretary and myself will be visiting Valparaiso, Chile next week for the second Our Ocean Conference, and I just want to thank him for his commitment.

As the world leaders gather here in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly, the fate of our ocean is as an important part of the agenda. The UN has just adopted a 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which will guide the work of the UN and member-states for the next 15 years, and a critical component of achieving all of the global goals will be conservation and sustainable use of the world’s oceans and marine resources.

This is the good news. And the good news is that there is a growing understanding that a healthy and resilient ocean will help drive widespread and shared prosperity, including economic, food, energy security, and will ensure the health of our planet for generations to come. It’s been about a year since Secretary Kerry convened the first Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C., and that conference aimed to spur action on the threats to our ocean. Since then, the United States and its partners around the world have been working together to tackle challenges such as ocean acidification, sustainable fishing, and marine debris. And we’ve made a lot of progress, and so our momentum going forward is only going stronger.

And so we’re very pleased that all of you came here to cover this event in such a busy UNGA week, and I think we’re all here because we recognize that a healthy ocean is essential to life on Earth. Phytoplankton in the ocean produces more than half of the oxygen we breathe. A healthy ocean provides us with millions of jobs through fishing, tourism, other industries, and with a nutritious source of protein for billions of people. In short, we can’t live without a healthy ocean, and the well-being of our citizens depends heavily on how we treat it. That’s why the United States, Chile, and other governments around the world, civil society, the private sector, are all working together to protect the ocean and ensure that we use its valuable resources in a sustainable manner.

Just to go over a few things of where we’ve been in terms of last year’s Ocean Conference and the tremendous commitments that came out of that, we are moving closer – the United States and all of our partners – to the goal of having 10 percent of the ocean and coastal areas managed by marine protected areas. Those are areas where we don’t allow fishing or other economic activity. And we are working to ensure that these areas, the ones that have been declared, are properly enforced. Shortly after the conference last year, President Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Monument, making it the largest marine protected area in the world closed to commercial extractive activities.

Illegal fishing and seafood fraud are also seriously undermining the economic and environmental sustainability of fisheries around the world, and it’s estimated that we lose billions of dollars to illegal fishing around the globe. In the U.S., for us it’s especially important because we import 90 percent of our seafood. So to address this problem, U.S. Government agencies, in consultation with environment groups, the seafood industry, and other governments are implementing the recommendations that the U.S. Presidential Task Force to Combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud, which is a long name – short name is IUU – and that task force was set up as part of the Our Ocean Conference last year. It has now come out with recommendations, including an exciting new traceability program that’s going to track seafood from the harvest anywhere in the world to entry into the United States and is going to allow consumers to know where their seafood’s come from and whether or not it was sustainably harvested.

We think this is extremely important because we want to create a level playing field and reward honest fishermen and women both here in the United States as well as around the world globally. We’re also working to reduce marine pollution and concentrating on marine plastics. It’s estimated that about 80 percent of the plastics in the ocean are land-based, and so we’re focusing our efforts on improving waste management systems and programs in key countries across Asia, as well as innovative waste-to-energy solutions, so actually turning the waste into energy.

As you also know, the United States is playing a strong leadership role in addressing greenhouse gas emissions that not only lead to climate change, which is well known, but also lead to acidification of the ocean. And this acidification has very significant consequences for marine ecosystems and shellfish industries. The ocean has absorbed 30 percent of the carbon that has been put into the atmosphere, so it’s a great bellwether of what is going on. President Obama and Secretary Kerry are fully committed to achieving an ambitious and durable international agreement at the COP 21 in Paris later this year, and our stated intention is to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels in 2025. And this is relevant to this discussion today because it’s going to contribute substantially to the international efforts to reduce ocean acidification as well as climate change.

We’re looking forward to moving the ball forward on all of these things in Chile next week in Valparaiso. There’s already an incredible lineup of participants as well as concrete commitments that the United States and other participants expect to unveil, and that will – the unveiling will wait until then. And this is really due to the fantastic leadership of Foreign Minister Muñoz and his team, and so we are very gratified that we have had the opportunity to work with them on this oceans – Our Ocean II Conference. And I’m going to hand this over to him to describe more their efforts, but again, I just want to commend the foreign minister for his courage and his vision. Thank you. (Applause.)

FOREIGN MINISTER MUÑOZ: Thank you very much. First of all, let me thank Under Secretary Cathy Novelli and Secretary of State John Kerry for their initiative to have organized the first Our Ocean Conference and now to have given us the baton to continue on to the second conference that will take place in Valparaiso and Vina del Mar on the 5th and 6th of October.

We are very pleased to be partners in this endeavor because protecting our oceans is betting on the future. The ocean – and the conference is called Our Ocean, in singular – not in plural – because scientists have proven that through maritime currents, really there’s only one single ocean and that belongs to all of us and it is the responsibility of all to protect for the present and future generations. So that’s why a country like Chile, that has a very long coast, our future depends on the sustainable use of the ocean, and that’s why we’ve taken up this challenge of organizing this second conference and to confront the dangers that ail the ocean.

And these are basically three that I think Under Secretary Novelli has described very well: First of all, illegal and unregulated and unreported fishing. It is estimated that illegal fishing could amount to up to $20 billion in terms of business. And this would be like the third most profitable illegal business in the world after drug trafficking and illegal trade of arms. And this is because the consumption of fish and products of the sea by individuals has increased enormously. FAO has estimated that during the 1960s, the per capita consumption at the world level was about 9.9 kilograms of fishing products. That has increased to almost 20 kilos per capita during the present – during present days. So that’s one danger that we have. We have to control, we have to regulate illegal fishing.

Second, acidification of the oceans which affect the corals and the change – the chain of biodiversity on which fish and mammals in the ocean feed. And that acidification, it is estimated by some studies, has increased about 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution.

And the third danger is the pollution of the ocean, particularly plastics. And here there’s a huge responsibility about recycling and reducing the use of plastics because plastics in the ocean accumulate and constitute veritable islands and then disintegrate. So that it is estimated that there is at least five concentrations of plastic, one in the so-called Indian Ocean, one in the north Atlantic, one in the south Atlantic, one in the north Pacific Ocean and in the south. In the one in the south – it’s near Rapa Nui – Easter Island – which is part of Chilean territory. And it is estimated that some of these concentrations of plastic reach a depth almost 80 meters and then disintegrate and affect, of course, fish and biodiversity.

So we have to tackle this. In order to do that, I think one of the elements that attracted Chile to support the initiative taken by Secretary Kerry and Cathy was that this is not a talk shop that we’re going to have in Chile. Certainly, there will be speeches, but more important than that, we want commitments – voluntary commitment by governments and by institutions of civil society, because this is not only a government responsibility. It is first and foremost, but it’s also civil society that can also contribute in a major way, so that we are asking those that are attending and speaking up to make voluntary commitments, to tell us what they are going to do to protect the ocean, whether it be a bill, whether it be a protected area – maritime protected area, or any other initiatives that will contribute to tackle the three problems that I’ve just listed.

And those of us who went to Washington last year when John Kerry organized the first conference will have to report on what we did and what we promised. Chile promised three things: First, that we would organize the second conference; we are doing that. Second, that we would have a new policy on illegal fishing, and we’ve done that, and we’re going to report specifically on what. And third, that we will join the United Nations fish stock agreement – the so-called New York agreement that would allow us to fiscalize better what goes on beyond the 200-mile exclusive economic zone, and we’re going to do that.

And now, the idea is that reporting what we’d promised, we do new commitments. And I’m not going to speak about that, because I’ll leave it as a surprise for Valparaiso where we will be talking about new commitments that Chile will be making and all other countries attending will do the same as well as, as I said, civil society. So we’re very excited about what’s coming soon in Valparaiso.

We are very happy to be working also with important foundations and NGOs like National Geographic, like Oceana, like Pew, many others that will be attending there at the high level where we’ll have some high-level personalities, as well as government officials. For certain Cathy and John will be there. But anybody from Prince Albert of Monaco to many foreign ministers, the commissioner of fishing from the European Union, the director general of the FAO – well, it’s a long list of government officials and representatives of civil society. So I – we hope that Valparaiso will be a major step forward.

And as Cathy Novelli was just saying, we just approved the SDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals, and goal number 14 is the protection of the oceans. So this is a way to begin honoring a commitment that we just approved at the highest level. This is the way we are honoring the commitments, we feel, so that we’re very excited about what will transpire in Valparaiso within a week or so. Thank you. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Under Secretary Novelli, Minister Muñoz, for those opening remarks. We’ll go to questions.

Right here.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Kahraman Haliscelik from Turkish radio and television. It’s great to see you again, Mr. Foreign Minister, here. Now, the issue of marine pollution. There are a lot of private companies, conglomerates that are actually also polluting the ocean – ships in the ocean. How do you think preventing this could be enforced? Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER MUÑOZ: Well, about – let’s see, about plastic, which is one of the major threats – clearly, recycling is one answer. Less use of plastics, and the key is that all the plastic in the ocean comes from land, from us. So that is the first realization that we have to have, and we have to stop throwing waste into the ocean. In addition to that, we are seeing now that increasingly there are companies that are picking up that and recycling. It’s very difficult to pick it up once concentrated because it begins to disintegrate into tiny little pieces. And that’s one of the challenges that we have. But, for example, I know of companies that will be present in this second conference that are picking up the plastic in islands, bringing it up to the continent, and recycling it. And that – I think anything that goes in that direction, I think it would be very positive.

Evidently, in terms of longer term, education is fundamental. This is in a sense a pedagogic endeavor as well, because to create consciousness that the oceans are fundamental for our future. Why are we creating maritime protected areas? Because they’re like saving accounts for the future. And we have to have those saving accounts, obviously, free of plastic waste. So that to the extent that we’re creating consciousness with this conference, this – that will also be a great of – deal of help, I think.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: If I could just add one thing to the fantastic answer of the foreign minister, I think there’s also some long-term things that we can think about. In the short term we have to concentrate on keeping the waste from going into the ocean. And in the longer term, we need to really think about how do we redesign packaging, how do we both use less and also how do we use different materials so that we really can be in what’s been referred to as the circular economy so that everything that’s used gets re-used, but that depends on what’s used in the first place. And there’s some really good work that’s being done, pioneering work that’s being done both on how to redesign packaging, but also on using biopolymers and other things. And so those folks are going to be present at the conference, too. And this is going to be a whole-of-Earth effort to be able to tackle this.

QUESTION: Actually, two questions. Alexey Osipov from Novosty. With all respect to the United States and Chile with – as a strong country with the longest coastal lane, it looks too weak. Where is China, Russia, Australia? Who invited to the conference to the Valparaiso? Who supported the program that you presented today?

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Well, let me just talk about the conference, the first conference, and I’ll let the minister talk about this one. But we invited – there were countries from everywhere at the first Our Ocean Conference. It wasn’t just the United States and Chile; there were foreign ministers from all over the world. And all of those folks made significant commitments as to what their countries were going to do. So I think the reason why the minister and I are up here is because we hosted the first one and Chile’s hosting the second one, but it’s not that we’re just the only two people standing up here. But I’ll let the minister talk about who’s coming to the second one.

FOREIGN MINISTER MUÑOZ: Well, we’ve invited a representation of countries from all over the world. In fact, you asked about Russia, and we’ve invited Foreign Minister Lavrov. In fact, I’m still waiting for an answer. I hope that he can be there, and I will be seeing him in the next couple of days, and I hope to get a positive answer. We invited China as well at the highest level, and we know that there’s a high official attending from China.

So there’s been a very wide representation of countries that will be there, large countries and small countries, because here, you have to have due respect for small countries that – their own survival is sort of at stake. So we’ve invited Caribbean countries because we wanted this time, since it is in Chile, to have a little bit of a more regional dimension, so that – for instance, the foreign minister of Jamaica is attending; very possibly, the first lady of Belize, who is very involved in these issues. We’ve invited the foreign minister of Trinidad and Tobago. We hope that he’ll be coming. We’ve invited the foreign minister of Guyana.

So we still, in the – as it always occurs with these conferences, we sometimes have confirmations in the last minute. But it’s a very wide range of countries, no discrimination of any region, but – large countries and small, and many have a large stake because their future is very much at stake if we don’t act.

QUESTION: And one more question: Today, largest oil and gas producer is looking there, oil and gas far from even the coastal line. And you mentioned already the marine pollution and plastic – yeah, it’s huge issues, big issues. And what about oil and gas?

FOREIGN MINISTER MUÑOZ: Well, look. The ocean – Our Ocean Conference, that’s not aimed at impeding the exploration, exploitation of oil and gas. That’s a reality. We also need gas even though I would prefer that we increasingly use renewables as a source of energy. But that’s part of life.

But what are we doing? There is three elements in this conference that I think are relatively new as regards to the first one. One is marine-protected areas that we are underlining even more than the first conference. And marine-protected areas is – as I said before, it’s like a savings account, and it will mean that in the future then, we will protect it from these type of activities and from illegal fishing and et cetera, and from any fishing that is not – from any fishing. So that, I think, is something that I should underline.

Second element that I think is very important: We are going to underline oceanic island communities this time so that we will have the mayor of Easter Island, as it is known here – but in Chile we know it as Rapa Nui – we will have the mayor of Juan Fernandez, which is a major island. You know the story of Robinson Crusoe happened in those islands. Because communities – oceanic island communities have very much at stake and they have very much of a high interest in protecting the oceans – the waters that surround them. So that, I think, will be an element.

And third, philanthropic initiatives. Increasingly, there is civil society and philanthropists that are very interested in contributing. And there will be a strong presence of philanthropists as well.

All of this makes us confident that we can make a difference with these conferences, particularly because, as I said, the idea is voluntary commitments. Nobody’s forcing anybody to sign anything if they don’t want to. If they come, we expect them to make announcement to make promises and to comply by them.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Can I just add to that? I think that the concept of the blue economy is really starting to be discussed more and more. And the meaning of that term comes from the idea that you can have blue, meaning sort of sustainable, but also economic activity at the same time, and that you don’t have to say that economic activity is somehow the enemy of conservation. And in fact, the goal is to find a way to have both. It’s not an either/or, it’s an “and.” And that is also something that I think is going to be more and more discussed as we go forward, because there is an incredible source of natural resources and fish themselves which are feeding huge swaths of the world. So we do have to think about how do we conserve that, but we conserve it so that we can continue to use it.

QUESTION: Hello, my name is Seana Magee from Kyodo News. I’m sorry. I didn’t know if Japan participated in your first meeting. And I’m wondering, will they be participating, at what level, and what contributions do you feel Japan can make as a seafood nation of importance?

And also, could you tell us a little bit about how you plan to tackle the illegal fishing – I’m sorry. Illegal fishing – do you have any proposals that are on the table or that you hope to present at this next meeting? Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER MUÑOZ: I don’t recall if Japan was represented in the first conference, and I don’t know whether they will be represented at the second one. I hope they will be. I don’t recall whether there’s a high official, though. They would be welcome for certain.

As regards how to combat illegal fishing, there are various tools. One of them is the New York Fish Stock Agreement, for example, because joining that instrument allows us to exercise control beyond the 200-mile zone over illegal fishing, particularly because a lot of these illegal ships position themselves right by the 200-mile limit and they go in and out. And since this New York agreement is aimed at highly migratory species, the idea is that we can exercise control that we didn’t have if we didn’t join the New York agreement. So this is one of the instruments.

Evidently, there is more technological instruments, so that we need satellite observation, for example. We need satellite instruments to know exactly where they are, these boats fishing illegally. And we’ve discovered them even within our exclusive economic zone. Happily, in Chile we have a very active navy, and that navy’s always trying to spot the illegal ships fishing illegally. And that – we’ve had many instances where we have captured those boats, taken them to port, and fined them heavily for fishing in our zone.

So that’s happening just about every day. Our navy picks up – when it’s bigger ships, we’ve had observation. I myself was at the Desventuradas Island. These islands are in the north of Chile, and we went with the navy in an observation plane. We went to the island – which is a beautiful island, by the way; Oceana has done a film about the richness that we have below there – and as we were coming back, there was a major ship that is known for fishing illegally. And we went over to spot it, and they were fishing just beyond the 200-mile limit. They were just there. And we went down in the plane about 20 meters above it so that – to make them nervous at least. I’m not going to give the name of the ship.

So that’s a way to exercise control over illegal fishing, but one needs resources. That’s the key. And when you have such a long coast and you are a developing country, then satellite observation, data gathering is absolutely fundamental.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: And I would add to that – and I completely agree with all of those things – there’s another agreement called the Port State Measures Agreement. That’s a treaty Chile’s already ratified and that we’re – the United States is working on ratified – we’ve acceded to, and so have a number of other countries. And what’s wonderful about this is that it basically says that if you sign it, you’re not going to allow these boats who have been illegally fishing and identified as such to actually enter your port. And so they don’t have anywhere to then go and sell their fish, which is, I think, a fantastic way to dis-incentivize this fishing.

The other thing that, as I said, we’re going to do in the United States is to institute what we hope is going to be a state-of-the-art traceability program, so that we’re going to basically say that unless you can show where this fish has come from, it’s not going to enter the commerce of the United States. And what we’re hoping is that we can work with other countries to also help them institute these kind of things, and we’re already speaking – the European Union has a system that’s slightly different than ours but also very strict, and we’re both speaking with Japan. We are the three largest seafood markets among us, and so we’re hoping that that can have an impact.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Unfortunately, we’re out of time for the press conference. Thank you all for attending. The transcript will be posted soon to fpc.state.gov.

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