His Excellency, Nogeh anak Gumbek, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry, Malaysia
Distinguished guests and experts from ASEAN Member States and the United States,
First I would like to say thank you to all delegates and speakers here today for your dedication to sustaining Southeast Asia’s valuable oceans and fisheries resources and for traveling to be here.
We are truly grateful for your work.
It is an honor for me to be among all of you, representing the U.S. Government’s commitment to maintaining safe and sustainable fish stocks and protecting the biodiversity of Southeast Asia’s oceans.
When President Obama appointed me to be the second U.S. Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, I knew that the issues of territorial disputes, food security, and human rights would all feature prominently in my new role.
What I have found during my time in the region, however, is that another serious threat weaves a common thread among each of these issues: the degradation of marine and coastal ecosystems due to overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing).
As you well know, Southeast Asia is home to a greater concentration of marine biodiversity than anywhere else in the world.
Nowhere else in the vast oceans on planet earth can you find the epaulette shark – one of the rare “walking” sharks – for example.
The waters in this region support many thousands of fish and invertebrate species that are vital for maintaining healthy ecosystems, and for providing food and livelihoods for millions of people in Southeast Asia and around the world.
I got to see some of this marine splendor first hand in Bunaken, Indonesia a couple of months ago, and it was breathtakingly beautiful in addition to being economically valuable.
There probably aren’t too many snorkelers at Bunaken who were thinking about the impact of land reclamation on coral reefs as they admired the beautiful colors—but I can admit to this group that I was!
As we know, this marine bounty, and by extension, the food security and economic security of many people in the region, is under severe threat.
There are many destructive forces at work—climate change alone can have devastating effects on coral.
IUU fishing has also been identified as a leading threat to the health of fish stocks and ecosystems.
It is therefore a serious threat to the long-term security of people who depend on oceans and fisheries for their protein and their jobs.
At the same time, the regional and global economy depends on robust trade of all kinds, including in the important food commodity of fish.
We would not want to restrict the free flow of trade of legally and sustainably caught fish.
Quite the opposite.
We need to facilitate that trade and reward honest fishers, especially here in Southeast Asia, where many countries rank among the top 20 fishing economies and which produces 17% of the world’s fish in the wild.
The economic impacts are clear.
So we must pursue trade and environment policies that support each other.
We need to find a balance so we can have our fish and eat it too.
Only by working together as trade and environment officials, and in cooperation with the private sector, can we ensure legal and sustainable supply chains.
This is why I am so pleased that organizations like the Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), the Coral Triangle Initiative, and the Regional Plan of Action on IUU have been working in the region to combat IUU fishing, promote food security, and conserve marine resources.
I sense growing interest in the region about these issues.
I attended the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum in September in Manado where IUU was a major topic of discussion.
And in late August at the 22nd ASEAN Regional Forum in Kuala Lumpur, I was very pleased that the Foreign Ministers adopted the Statement on Strengthened Cooperation on Marine Environmental Protection and Conservation that was co-sponsored by the United States, China, Singapore and Vietnam.
Combatting illegal fishing has also become a clear priority for the U.S. Government.
President Obama and Secretary Kerry are both invested, as am I.
In fact, I have made marine and maritime issues a top priority at our mission.
Last year, a U.S. Presidential Task Force released recommendations and an action plan to combat IUU.
That action plan committed the United States to establish a system where we have more control over the safety and legality of imported fish.
Other elements of the plan operate at the international level.
First, we seek to strengthen international enforcement tools.
At the Our Oceans conference last month in Lima, Peru, Secretary Kerry announced a new program called Sea Scout.
Sea Scout is aimed at enhancing global coordination, information sharing, and ultimately enforcement on IUU fishing to help ensure that no patch of ocean is beyond the law.
Second, we will partner, including with those in this room, to identify and eliminate seafood fraud and the sale of IUU seafood.
Third, we will help to create a risk-based traceability program to track seafood from harvest to entry into the U.S. market.
On these last two points, I was privileged to accompany Secretary of State John Kerry at the ASEAN Regional Forum when he announced the new $20 million Oceans and Fisheries Partnership, managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
You will hear more about this Partnership later in the program, but I will take this opportunity to express our hope and our conviction that this collaboration with SEAFDEC and the Coral Triangle Initiative will go a long way towards promoting regional cooperation to combat IUU.
The program is developing a transparent and financially-sustainable catch documentation and traceability system to help ensure that fisheries resources are legally caught and properly labeled.
As Secretary Kerry said at the ASEAN Regional Forum, “Traceability is an essential part of our global fight to conserve marine resources and protect the health of our oceans.”
That is because, as you know, if you can’t trace seafood from “bait to plate,” as they say, then the buyers and ultimate consumers can’t be assured of its legal origins.
Large retailers and restaurants in America are starting to pay a lot of attention to their sources of seafood.
So for this region to stay competitive, it will need a system like this.
As we know, many types of fish do not seem to care about our territorial boundaries, only regional and international solutions can work.
Only together can we ensure sustainable fisheries and a future where we can continue to depend on the ocean for food security.
To put our regional efforts into context, I want to mention two international agreements that can also help address these issues.
First, the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership includes comprehensive environmental and labor protections in an agreement that involves 40 percent of the world’s trade.
It prohibits some of the most harmful fisheries subsidies and contains stand-alone commitments to combat IUU fishing while promoting sustainable fisheries management.
Four ASEAN Member States are already part of the Partnership — Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam – and we hope that more will join.
Second, the United States is helping to promote the Port State Measures Agreement, an unprecedented agreement to set minimum standards for countries to prevent IUU seafood products from foreign flagged ships from entering their ports.
Myanmar has already ratified this treaty and I know some other ASEAN Member States are close.
I hope they choose to ratify soon.
Just the week before last, the U.S. Senate passed the necessary legislation and when President Obama signs it, which is expected any day now, the United States will ratify.
Combatting IUU fishing requires governments to do something that all the officials here know can be difficult: to operate across Ministries and across pillars of ASEAN.
But trade officials, agriculture and fisheries officials, and law enforcement entities need to communicate and cooperate to address this complex challenge.
In particular, a mutual dialogue is critical to ensure the systems the Oceans partnership develops are robust and sustainable, while promoting legal and fair trade.
We are here for these next two days to start this cross-sectoral conversation.
Even so, a meeting like this every now and then is not enough; within ASEAN’s existing structure of sectoral meetings, an issue like IUU would benefit from consideration of cross-sectoral approaches to establish more regular dialogue, both internally and with Dialogue Partners.
When it comes to collaboration, I want to stress that working with the private sector will also be critical to success.
Companies along the entire value chain must be engaged as part of the solution.
I am pleased that there are private sector representatives here with us, who will speak on their perspectives tomorrow.
I will close with another big thanks to all of you, because I know that everyone here today is dedicated to this effort.
There will be challenges ahead of all kinds – political challenges, technical challenges, and resource challenges as we devise solutions to IUU.
But I am hopeful that with the right collection of government and private sector experts and enthusiasts, we are in a position to make a real difference for the future of the region.
Our conversation over these next two days will serve to update us all on the facts of the current situation, to share progress, to discuss challenges, and provide recommendations on a way forward for continued U.S.-ASEAN collaboration on solutions.
The ocean is what connects us all.
I am proud personally, and on behalf of the United States, to be a part of this important dialogue and wish you a successful discussion.