The Washington Post

Secretary of State John Kerry says summit will seek global action to protect oceans

Clarification: This story was incomplete and insufficiently nuanced in characterizing the position of Legal Seafoods chief executive Roger Berkowitz with regard to fish sustainability. Berkowitz does not dispute the idea of sustainability; he disputes only how federal fisheries authorities assess fish stocks. He says that all fish served at his restaurants are legally caught within federal fishing limits, without exception.


Secretary of State John Kerry will host a two-day conference next week to address human influence on oceans and urge action to protect the sea. (Jean Sebastien Evrard/AP)

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Wednesday that he will “try to coalesce global action around the oceans” next week by hosting an international summit aimed at curbing overfishing, pollution and chemical changes spurred by rising carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.

The two-day conference, which will begin Monday and include officials from 80 countries, represents the Obama administration’s highest-profile effort to address human influence on oceans. Kerry has spearheaded the initiative, recording a video that urges individuals to take personal action to protect the sea and marshaling commitments from political and corporate leaders.

Senior administration officials have indicated that the United States will provide additional funding for marine research and for efforts to better monitor how the sea is becoming more acidic as it absorbs human-generated CO2 emissions. Some global leaders — including officials from small
island states in the Pacific — will also announce the creation of protected marine areas and initiatives to manage plastic waste and promote sustainable seafood.

“We can do better science,” Kerry said. “We can do better monitoring.”

David A. Balton, deputy assistant secretary for oceans and fisheries, said many technological and policy approaches to reducing nutrient runoff, plastic debris, illegal fishing and other ills
already exist.

“There are solutions out there. Often the missing ingredient has been political will,” Balton said. “We’re hoping to build political will toward these solutions.”

A handful of world leaders will attend the conference, including Prince Albert II of Monaco and Anote Tong and Tommy Remengesau, the presidents of the Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Palau, respectively. President Obama will not attend the conference but will send a video message, aides said.

The administration is enlisting the help of corporate officials such as Bumble Bee Foods chief executive Chris Lischewski, who has worked with scientists and environmentalists on measures to protect tuna, and Legal Seafoods chief executive Roger Berkowitz, who has challenged the idea of sustainability by serving some overfished species at his restaurant.

“We tried to invite a really broad swath of folks,” said Catherine A. Novelli, undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, referring to Berkowitz’s participation. “We have to have everybody come here. We have to have everyone on the bandwagon to go in the right direction.”

Berkowitz said in an interview that he does not plan to announce a change in his restaurants’ sourcing policy and that he still questions the way federal fisheries authorities assess fish stocks. “I’m going to this open-minded,” he said, adding, “The industry and the fishermen are owed accurate assessments.”

Novelli said she is confident that the meeting will yield a “very tangible set of initiatives,” as well as a plan of action with steps that can be measured over time. In organizing the conference, she said, she did not meet “anybody who says this is an insoluble problem.”

“There’s nobody throwing up their hands,” she said.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.

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