First, a special thank you to the Wilson Center for organizing this event. Your relationships and expertise in the region have been invaluable.
I also want to thank Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica for establishing and enhancing the Marine Corridor of the Eastern Tropical Pacific, or CMAR.
Your leadership is visionary, and the transnational network of marine protected areas you have established in CMAR is a model for other regions around the world.
CMAR of course is the reason we are here today. The United States signed an MOU with the governments of Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Panama last year at the Summit of the Americas to help CMAR members achieve their vision.
One of the greatest threats to achieving this vision is IUU fishing. We know that IUU fishing undermines the viability of the Eastern Tropical Pacific’s special and precious marine biodiversity, which includes blue whales, hammerhead sharks, leatherback turtles and manta rays, to name just a few.
But of course, IUU fishing is not merely a threat to marine biodiversity. We also know that it undermines the sustainability of the fish populations that coastal communities across the region rely on to meet their nutritional and economic needs.
It puts the health and livelihoods of vulnerable people at risk.
What many of us outside the region may not appreciate is that here, IUU fishing is increasingly intertwined with drug trafficking, human trafficking, and other crimes. So, IUU fishing has become a threat to the very security of many of the nations around the region.
I’d like to thank my colleagues across the United States government for recognizing the threats that IUU fishing represents – and for working so hard over the last several months to develop the commitments they are announcing today that will help counter IUU fishing in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Region.
Given the ambition and enormity of this effort, promoting a successful CMAR vision is a complex process. So let me note that these actions are a part – just a part – of the U.S. commitment to support CMAR governments as they work to achieve their vision for CMAR.
We are also working closely with the CMAR Secretariat and the Environment Ministers of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama on other commitments to strengthen CMAR’s core marine protected areas.
But today, we are here to talk specifically about our commitment to improving maritime security, maritime domain awareness and countering IUU fishing in the region.
We have a very special set of panelists today, and I’m very grateful to all of them – my U.S. colleagues as well as our [Panamanian and] Colombian friend[s] – for making the trip to the Our Ocean Conference to deliver their messages to you.