711.428/2028a: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Bingham )

406. You are requested at the earliest possible moment to communicate with the Canadian High Commissioner and in company with him leave the following memorandum with the appropriate British authorities. The High Commissioner is receiving similar instructions today.

  • “1. The International Fisheries Commission, now operating under the Convention of 1930 between Canada and the United States for the Preservation of the Halibut Fishery of the Northern Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea, have information that the S. S. Thorland is now outfitting in Oslo in order to undertake shortly a voyage for the purpose of halibut fishing and freezing operations off the coasts of British Columbia and Alaska. This vessel, it is said, is under British registry and previously operated as a ‘Mother Ship’ in halibut fishing in Greenland waters.
  • 2. In view of the past history of the Northern Pacific halibut fishery, and of the experience gained by the International Fisheries Commission, this report, if true, presents the possibility of a very serious situation arising. If fishing expeditions from other countries should invade this area and operate without restriction it would become practically impossible either to maintain the Treaty between Canada and the United States or to preserve this halibut fishery from immediate serious depletion and ultimate commercial extinction.
  • 3. This halibut fishery began to assume importance in the early nineties when reasonable transport facilities from the west coast to [Page 186] the eastern markets became available. The fishing expanded so rapidly that by 1910 the evidence of serious depletion was unmistakable. As the fishing area had to be expanded farther and farther to the north-western high seas, the west coast fishing industry became alarmed, and in 1917 the problem was referred by the Governments of Canada and the United States to an international commission, for study.33 Upon its recommendation a Treaty was concluded in 192334 providing for an annual close season of 3 months and a permanent International Fisheries Commission to investigate and report upon further measures for the preservation and development of the fishery.
  • 4. After 5 years of intensive study the permanent Commission reported35 that the stocks of halibut had greatly declined, that the production of eggs and young had fallen to a dangerously low level, and that the decline was continuing. Upon its recommendation a new Treaty was concluded in 1930 granting regulatory powers. Under the regulations adopted the main producing portion of the seas was divided into two areas and for each area the quantity of halibut to be taken in any year was specifically limited. Certain areas found to be nurseries for young halibut were closed to all halibut fishing, and the close season was extended.
  • 5. As a result of these regulations the decline in the fishery has ceased and upbuilding has begun. With a view to preventing the glutting of the markets, the fishermen in the different areas have been arranging amongst themselves so to distribute their catches as to cover, as nearly as practicable, the whole fishing season.
  • 6. Fishing operations carried on by means of ‘Mother Ships’ despatched from other countries and of a magnitude to endanger this Northern Pacific fishery would seem to be entirely practicable. For example, halibut fishing in Greenland waters has recently been carried on from Great Britain by means of such ships, one or more of them running up to 10,000 tons, which are equipped with freezing and cold storage facilities and which receive their catch not only from accompanying fishing vessels but from small boats whose fishermen live on the ‘Mother Ship’, the latter remaining on the fishing grounds until a cargo is obtained or the season ends. The Greenland halibut fishery, though thus intensively conducted for only a relatively few years, is already in a seriously depleted condition.
  • 7. Although it was not by any means impracticable for fishermen of other nations to have extended their halibut fishing operations to the areas in question, they have not done so as yet. But should this expedition invade these areas there is substantial reason to believe that other nations would immediately follow suit.
  • 8. In all these circumstances it seems entirely clear that such invasions would mean the end of the Northern Pacific halibut fishery within a measurable future. In the first place, in the face of such invasions it would become impracticable for Canada and the United States any longer effectively to restrain the operations of their fishermen in this region. The operations of all parties, being unrestricted and being more intensive because of the increased competition and [Page 187] the greater numbers engaged, could result only in accelerating the depletion and finally in practical extinction of the fishery. That this would happen seems evident from the history of the fishery to date and the information gathered by the International Fisheries Commission.”

In addition to leaving the memorandum you should make a strong oral plea that the British assist us in preventing a step which may well lead to the failure of our halibut convention with Canada and the ultimate extinction of the halibut fishery on the Pacific Coast.