The Under Secretary of State ( Polk ) to Senator Wesley L. Jones

Sir: I have the honor to refer again to your letter of December 18, 1919,5 regarding the proposed treaty between the United States and Great Britain concerning port privileges of fishing vessels, lobster fishing, halibut fishing, and the tariff on fresh fish. After submitting your comments to the American members of the American-Canadian Fisheries Conference, I now beg to reply to the several paragraphs of your said letter as follows. The article numbers refer to the articles in the text sent to you in my letter of December [Page 391] 27, 1919,6 instead of to the earlier text which you appear to have had when writing your letter of December 18, 1919.

Article 1. In the first place, I desire to correct what seems to be a misunderstanding on your part of the status of the so-called modus vivendi privileges. It is true that the privileges contemplated by the proposed treaty are very similar to those contemplated by the unratified treaty of 1888. The privileges intended to be secured to American fishermen by that treaty were also embodied in a modus vivendi entered into on February 15, 1888, pending the ratification of the treaty, but the reciprocal privileges sought to be granted to Canadians by Article 12 of the treaty of 1887 [1888?] were not provided for in the modus. Under the terms of this modus vivendi, a license fee was charged to American fishing vessels for the enjoyment of the privileges, and the modus was only a temporary arrangement for a period “not exceeding two years”. Since its termination, it is true, Canada has, by Governmental orders under authority of local legislation, continued to grant to American fishermen the privileges established by the modus vivendi. It would appear, therefore, that if Canada benefited from the application of the terms of the modus it was from the presence of American vessels in Canadian ports exercising privileges which the proposed treaty is intended to convert into rights, and not because Canada was benefiting from the exercise of reciprocal privileges in the United States ports, for she had no such privileges, at least, until the recent war arrangement, when, by Order in Council of Canada of March 8, 1918, and the order of the Secretary of Commerce of February 21, the reciprocal privileges established by Articles 1 and 2 of the proposed treaty were established for the duration of the war.

You state that as nearly as you can learn, “34 American vessels availed themselves of the opportunity presented in 1916 that is, of the privileges which have become popularly known as” modus vivendi privileges although now existing only by virtue of Canadian law. The information received by this Department shows the following facts for the Canadian fiscal year 1916, as set forth in the official report of the Canadian Fisheries Service, published in 1917:

Seventy-three fishing vessels of Maine and Massachusetts availed themselves of the modus vivendi privileges and paid $9,912. therefor.

These vessels and 157 other American fishing vessels (total 230) made use of Canadian ports on the Atlantic coast on 1,633 occasions.

On the Pacific coast, where American fishing vessels were privileged to enter Canadian ports under legislation analogous to but [Page 392] slightly different from the so-called “modus vivendi” legislation of the Atlantic coast, without the payment of a license fee, 124 such vessels made use of British Columbia ports on 611 occasions.

With regard to your statement that since 1916 Canada has been “seeking a way to increase fishing from its ports”, the information of this Department does not indicate that Canada has been any more active than have all other maritime countries, including the United States, in endeavoring to increase the output of its fisheries as one means of meeting the demand for food at lower prices, which was very acute during the war.

Article 2. In reply to your criticism that the privileges granted under section (a) would not be exercised except as to bait because other articles mentioned therein are cheaper in Canada, I am informed that evidence taken before the International Fisheries Conference leads to a conclusion directly contrary to that stated by you. This testimony showed that the modern fishing vessel on the Atlantic coast, at least, can be built, equipped and outfitted just as cheaply in the United States as in Canada, if not, in fact, more cheaply in the United States than in Canada. The testimony further showed that Canadian vessel owners use certain American supplies and equipment by preference. Assuming that nets are cheaper in Canada, this would, of course, work out in favor of American fishermen who would have the privilege of purchasing nets under the reciprocal section of Article 1. But, I am informed that as a matter of fact, the making of fishing nets reaches its highest development in the United States, that Canadian fishermen freely patronize the American net manufacturers and in some fisheries obtain all their nets from that source, and that the only net which American fishermen are now obliged to purchase from Great Britain is the otter-trawl, and an American factory for the manufacture of this type of net is now being constructed. The Canadian fleet using the otter-trawl is said to consist of probably less than a half dozen vessels, consequently, the advantages of this net in Canada would not seem to have resulted in serious Canadian competition.

With regard to paragraphs (b) and (c) of Article 2, I am informed that the privileges therein contained probably would be of no considerable importance to Canada, but that the reciprocal privileges contained in Article 1 in favor of American fishermen in Canadian ports is of vital consequence to the North Atlantic fisheries, where it appears that more than fifty percent of the crews consist of men from the British maritime provinces and the privilege of shipping crews in Canadian ports is much availed of.

With regard to paragraph (d) of Article 2, this privilege would also seem to be one which, under the reciprocal provision of Article [Page 393] 1, is more valuable to American fishermen than to Canadian. The privilege of landing fish at Canadian ports and sending them thence to the United States market is valuable. In the absence of this privilege in recent years, the American halibut vessels fishing off Alaska would have had to go to Seattle and make a round trip 1,000 to 1,200 miles farther than is now required to discharge their catch in Prince Rupert. That this privilege is of importance to the Alaskan halibut fishery is shown by the large fleet of American vessels that for years have availed themselves of it and landed very heavy catches at Prince Rupert and Vancouver. Thus, of some 16,000,000 pounds of fish landed at Prince Rupert in 1919, 10,000,000 were brought in by American fishing vessels and were destined for the American market. The withdrawal of this privilege would not, according to information recently received, tend to the development of the port of Seattle by forcing this fish to be landed there instead of at Prince Rupert, but would result in the transfer to Canadian registry of a great many American vessels now operating out of Prince Rupert. The purpose of the treaty is, of course, to develop American fishing interests and to produce a larger food supply for the American consumer through the activities of these American fishermen. If the withdrawal of these privileges would result in removing a large fishing fleet from American registry and consequently, from American control, I think you will agree with me that this would be an unfortunate result.

In reply to your criticisms of paragraphs (e), (f) and (g) of Article 2, my attention has been called to the fact that during the past two years under temporary orders, the privileges sought to be established by this treaty have been in force by the concurrent action of Canada and the United States. We have thus been able for two years to form some idea of the use which Canadian vessels would make of these privileges. While it would be possibly very desirable to increase the number of Canadian vessels coming to United States ports to dispose of their catches in order thereby to increase the supply of fish for American consumption, still, during the past two years, in spite of the great demand and the highest prices which have prevailed in generations, comparatively few Canadian vessels have taken advantage of the opportunity to sell their catches in American ports. Thus, in the vessel fisheries centering at Boston and Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Portland, Maine, in which about 500 American fishing vessels land some 200,000,000 pounds of fish annually, 9 Canadian vessels in 1919 brought directly from the fishing grounds 3,296,147 pounds of fish in 39 trips, a decrease from 1918 of about 50 percent in vessels and catch. [Page 394] In the important high-sea fisheries centering at Seattle, the customs house records show that no Canadian vessel in 1919 came directly from the fishing grounds, and only 4 Canadian fishing vessels, carrying 75,000 pounds of halibut worth $6,780, made any use whatever of the privileges accorded by departmental action.

Your criticism of Article 4 is not clearly understood as I have been unable to find any legislation supporting your statement that Americans would be required in returning from a foreign port like Prince Rupert, to the fishing ground, to enter at the first American port. Nor do I understand clearly to what you refer by the term “American coastwise registers”, since navigation laws apparently do not provide therefor. In any event, the criticism you make concerns a matter which can be readily altered by act of Congress and which, perhaps, should be altered if it is a serious burden upon American fishing vessels in competition with Canadian fishing vessels.

With regard to your criticism of Article 8 (Article 7 in the earlier draft), which, taken into consideration with Article 10, guarantees that neither country will place a duty upon shipments of fresh fish, including frozen fresh fish and fresh fish packed in ice, when coming from the territory of the other country, I would say that there is no disposition to insist upon the period of seventeen years for the duration of the treaty. If this appears to be too long, I would be perfectly willing to submit a suggestion to Canada to make the period shorter, but I doubt if it would be worth while to suggest a shorter period than five years; the advantages and disadvantages of a treaty could scarcely be accurately measured if it were tried out for a shorter period.

I trust that the above will satisfactorily answer the objections which seem to exist upon your first examination of the treaty. I will again call your attention to the fact that this matter received the most careful consideration at the hands of the American–Canadian Fisheries Conference7 and that at the hearings held by that Conference the fishing interests of both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts were given ample opportunity to express their views. I am informed that the testimony taken at such hearings fully bears out the statements made above and shows that in seeking to insure the largest supply of fish food for consumers in the United States through the provisions of this treaty, this Government will, at the same time, promote the development of the American fishery and incidentally, of course, its interests dependent thereon.

I have [etc.]

Frank L. Polk
  1. ibid., p. 266.
  2. Letter and draft convention referred to not printed; draft convention essentially the same as that printed ibid., p. 258.
  3. For a report of this conference, dated Sept. 6, 1918, see Foreign Relations, 1918, pp. 439 ff.