A two-day conference focused on threats to the ocean has garned commitments from maritime governments to increase efforts to stop illegal fishing, to promote greater efficiency in sustainable fishing and to designate more territorial waters as marine protected areas.
By stepping up their conservation commitments, participants at the Our Ocean 2014 conference hope to stimulate greater action and concern from more governments about one of the most challenging environmental problems of the age.
Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the June 16–17 meeting, which was attended by about 400 government officials, marine experts and conservation organizations from 80 countries. He led off a panel of government officials and ministers in the meeting’s final hours, emphasizing new U.S. government commitments to stronger action against illegal fishing that destroys fish stocks and ecosystems.
President Obama will target this problem, Kerry said, by “issuing a presidential memorandum to ensure that all seafood sold in the United States is both sustainable and traceable, meaning customers will know who caught it, where and when.”
Another action the Obama administration will take to better limit illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is to push for congressional ratification of the International Port State Measures Agreement, adopted by member nations of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization in 2009. Kerry said the agreement “will help ensure that illegally harvested fish cannot enter into the global stream of commerce.”
Patrolling the vastness of the high seas to prevent illegal fishing is a daunting prospect, but these measures stem from the belief that market controls can drain profits from IUU fishing and prompt the unregulated boats to abandon the activity.
Further endorsement of the International Port State Measures Agreement came from Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende, representing one of only a handful of nations that have ratified the agreement since its initial adoption.
“All fishing nations must follow suit as soon as possible,” Brende said, predicting the measure could be a most effective tool in controlling IUU. Brende also announced that Norway is making a $150 million commitment to help developing nations enhance their skills, practices and equipment for managing sustainable fisheries.
Palau President Tommy Remengesau addressed conference participants with the sobriquet Palauns apply to themselves, “children of the ocean.” While much of the conference discussion focused on the future threats that overfishing, acidification and pollution will bring to the ocean, Remengesau emphasized that perils of the future are today’s reality in Palau.
“The perils of the ocean are already upon us,” said the president of the Pacific island state. “Fellow children of the ocean, we are the window to what will eventually happen to the rest of the global community if nothing significant is done” to address these environmental threats.
Palau will declare a marine sanctuary, Remengesau said, in the nation’s entire “exclusive economic zone,” the territorial waters granted to it under international agreement. In an area of 600,000 square kilometers, the Palauan president said, only sustainable, domestic fishing will be allowed, closing out the large-scale, industrial fishing operations that can do substantial damage to seabeds and underwater ecosystems.
Palau is also a member of a regional initiative led by Micronesia to create a shark sanctuary, further evidence of how marine protected areas help rebuild species populations.
The United States also announced its intent to expand marine protected zones around existing protected waters of the Pacific Remote Islands.
Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz raised the stakes on the two-day conference, issuing an invitation from his nation to host a follow-up meeting in a year so that nations can return to report the progress they’ve achieved on the commitments made at the 2014 session.
Muñoz further committed Chile to stronger and more effective actions in combating IUU fishing on its Pacific coastal waters and around the offshore islands in its territorial waters. The foreign minister said his country views its participation in Our Ocean 2014 as a strong step toward better marine conservation policies.
“I think that present and future generations will thank us,” Muñoz concluded.