Kerry: Protecting World’s Oceans Isn’t Just Environmentalist, It’s ‘An Economic Imperative’


Secretary of State John Kerry has been leading the U.S. in talks with Iran

HALF MOON BAY, CALIFORNIA — We know how to solve many of the crises facing the world’s oceans. Now all we need is consensus and enforcement, said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a conversation via video link at the Economist’s World Ocean Summit on Tuesday.

“We know exactly what is threatening our oceans,” said Sec. Kerry who specifically pointed to overfishing, pollution, and climate change as the three major threats. “And we have a good understanding of what we need to do.” But political opposition and insufficient enforcement of existing regulations remain major hurdles to implementing known solutions.

As an example, Kerry pointed to his efforts with the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) to convince the United Nations to ban driftnet fishing. “Yet we know people are still fishing with driftnets,” he said, referencing statistics that suggest worldwide illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing activities — known as “pirate fishing” — cost U.S. fishermen as much as $115 million in market share annually.

“Environmental reasons for protecting the world’s oceans should be leaping out at people, but it’s also an economic imperative,” said Kerry, citing the more than one billion people, primarily in developing countries, who rely on fish for their primary source of protein.

Kerry’s remarks echoed a call from Prince Charles of Wales who, in a recorded address preceding Kerry’s remarks, called on ocean industries and politicians to support the ocean’s “Blue Economy” by “aligning financial capital with maintenance of natural capital.” He called on the World Bank to set up a market for “Blue Bonds” like the Green Bonds program established in 2008.

The economic value of the oceans referenced by both Secretary Kerry and Prince Charles reflects the growing realization among world leaders that economic and environmental interests are not at odds with one another. As the Center for American Progress has found, economic development and environmental protection can and must go hand-in-hand as we look to reconcile increasing industrial activity in and around the world’s oceans.

Kerry also announced that he would be convening a two-day meeting in Washington, D.C. this summer to address international ocean issues, and seek more of a holistic approach to global ocean management. “Each country wants to exercise its own sovereignty,” said Kerry, “but that’s not the way the ocean works.”

Michael Conathan is the Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress.