The Chargé in Ecuador ( Sparks ) to the Secretary of State

No. 560

Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith a copy with English translation of a note50 received from the Foreign Office concerning American fishing vessels which are alleged to have gone to the Galapagos Islands for the purpose of fishing clandestinely in Ecuadorean waters in order to evade the payment of the fishing tax. The note sets forth that the Ecuadorean Government is determined to take energetic measures to repress this practice and to assert its sovereignty in the Islands. The request is therefore made that the American Government caution the fishing companies of the necessity of avoiding disagreeable situations in the future.

Since a similar accusation was made last year relative to the American fishing vessel Ariadne (see despatch No. 160 of October 24, 193547), [Page 528] and upon investigation it was established that the vessel in question had no intention of proceeding to the Galapagos Islands, I deemed it desirable to obtain more detailed information from the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. He stated that the Ministry of National Defense, which has jurisdiction over the Islands, had learned that several American fishing vessels have been operating in the vicinity of the Islands without complying with the provisions of the Ecuadorean Fishing Regulations. Therefore, as the Government is determined to enforce those Regulations, the Foreign Office had been asked to request the American Government to apprise the fishing companies of the pertinent Ecuadorean Law so as to avoid any incident which might arise if these vessels should be apprehended and detained because of violation thereof.

I deemed it desirable to point out informally that it is my understanding that no fishing vessel clears from American ports with the express intention of proceeding to the Galapagos Islands for commercial fishing. In fact, these vessels are said to start fishing off the Mexican coast and that they usually have a sufficient catch long before reaching the vicinity of the Galapagos Islands. Consequently, it seemed unreasonable to expect that a fishing vessel which has not a previous intention of proceeding to, and in all probabilities will not reach the Islands, should pay prior to its departure the tax of $5.00 per registered ton (see despatch No. 259 of February 13, 193651). I added that if this were a correct statement of the situation it would seem more practical for all concerned if a station were established on the Islands where the tax could be paid in the event that a vessel desired to fish in Ecuadorean territorial waters.

The Under Secretary considered this a practical solution of the problem and proposed to submit it for the consideration of the Minister of National Defense. I suggested, however, that another phase of the problem should first be settled, namely, the controversy arising out of the definition of Ecuadorean territorial waters and marginal seas referred to in the Legation’s note No. 16, of June 7, 1935, (see despatch No. 74 of June 18, 193552). I recalled that Ecuadorean law defines territorial waters as comprising those within fifteen miles of the most projecting points, which definition would extend the territorial waters of Ecuador far beyond the three mile limit recognized by a majority of states as delimiting the waters in which a state may properly exercise its jurisdiction under the rules of International Law. I then expressed the thought that while my Government undoubtedly would be pleased to invite the attention of interested fishing companies to the pertinent provisions of the Ecuadorean Fishing Regulations and caution them against any violation thereof, it would be constrained to add [Page 529] at the same time that it cannot admit the right of the Ecuadorean Government to apply these Regulations to American vessels beyond the three mile limit. I further stated that I had gathered from previous exchanges of views on this subject that the Foreign Office does not hold the same opinion as the Ministry of National Defense. Therefore, as the matter is now in the hands of the Attorney General for decision which, should he sustain the present law, would result in many difficult situations in American-Ecuadorean relations, the Under Secretary might desire to discuss the question in this light with him. While the Under Secretary made no commitment as to the Foreign Office’s views on the subject, he agreed to discuss the matter immediately with the Attorney General.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Under Secretary concluded that he would send me a further note within the next two weeks relative to the request contained in the enclosure herewith. However, in the meantime the Department may desire to instruct me to make a formal acknowledgement of the note with such observations as may seem desirable.

Respectfully yours,

Edward J. Sparks
  1. Note No. 134, October 6; not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Despatch not printed; for text of Note No. 16, see instruction No. 23, June 1, 1935, to the Minister in Ecuador, Foreign Relations, 1935, vol. iv, p. 514.