711.008 North Pacific/211a Suppl.: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Japan (Grew)

309. Memorandum. Beginning in 1930, and in every year since then, there have been present in the Bristol Bay area of western Alaska during the salmon fishing season Japanese fishing fleets made up of floating canneries and auxiliary vessels varying in type from small motorboats to diesel-powered trawlers. As long as the activities of these vessels were confined to the taking of crabs which abound in the Bering Sea they gave the American Government no cause for serious concern. Recently, however, evidence has accumulated which indicates that the Japanese fishing vessels operating in Bristol Bay are engaging in salmon fishing, thus raising the question of the protection and perpetuation of the salmon resources in these and other Alaskan waters.

In this connection the following trend of events is noteworthy: In 1936 the Japanese Government announced that a 3-year fishing survey of the salmon resources of Bristol Bay would be undertaken. Two years of the survey have been completed and a third year will carry it through the 1938 fishing season. The regular appearance in Bristol Bay of the fishery survey vessels, coupled with the operations of Japanese fishing fleets, has caused deep concern among large sections of the American public with regard to the object and significance of such activities.

Now reports from reliable sources have become increasingly numerous that Japanese fishing vessels operating in Bristol Bay are beginning to intercept the salmon runs of these waters. Such reports are [Page 764] becoming more and more insistent and reliable, and during the past season their authenticity has been supported by impressive affidavits, and by actual photographs of the fishing operations in question.

The American Government has understood from assurances given by the Japanese Government to the American Embassy at Tokyo that no licenses were being granted to Japanese fishing vessels to fish for salmon in the Bristol Bay area. Nevertheless evidence which continues to reach the American Government raises a strong presumption that Japanese nationals have actually begun salmon fishing on a substantial scale in the waters in question. The fact of such fishing being without the authority of the Japanese Government renders it of no less concern to the affected American interests. The persistence by Japanese nationals in such fishing operations in Alaskan waters would inevitably cause, among American interests, the gravest anxiety for the future of the salmon fisheries with which is inseparably joined the employment and economic welfare of large sections of the American people.

The American Government must also view with distinct concern the depletion of the salmon resources of Alaska which would inevitably occur should Japanese nationals continue unrestricted fishing with the highly developed methods available to them. These resources have been developed and preserved primarily by steps taken by the American Government in cooperation with private interests to promote propagation and permanency of supply. But for these efforts, carried out over a period of years, and but for consistent adherence to a policy of conservation, the Alaska salmon fisheries unquestionably would not have reached anything like their present state of development.

The laws enacted by Congress for the protection of the fisheries of Alaska have especially provided for the perpetuation of the salmon resources by requiring an escapement for breeding purposes of at least 50 percent of the runs. To assure such escapements, the fishing laws provide for weekly closed periods, and prohibit commercial salmon fishing at the mouths of all but the larger Alaska salmon streams. The Secretary of Commerce is authorized to fix the size and character of nets, boats, and other equipment used in salmon fishing, to limit the catch of fish, and to regulate the length of the fishing season. In practice the season is limited to approximately one month and fishing equipment to the simplest varieties, but Japanese nationals fishing in Bering Sea appear to be without restriction as to season or equipment. The effect of these measures of conservation has been not only to maintain normal production from the Alaska salmon fisheries but to raise the salmon pack in recent years to the highest levels in the history of the industry. Conservation measures have also included [Page 765] biological surveys, the development of hatcheries, supervisory patrols, and the maintenance of special facilities for the conduct of these activities. The cost of these conservation measures to the American Government over the past 10 years has averaged annually the substantial sum of $358,000.

The cost of the extensive efforts made by the Government to regulate salmon fishing and to perpetuate the supply of salmon has been borne by the American people, and not infrequently American fishermen have suffered loss of employment and income as a result of the various restrictions imposed. Because of such sacrifices, and the part that American citizens have played in bearing the cost of conserving and perpetuating the salmon resources, it is the strong conviction and thus far unchallenged view on the part of millions of American citizens on the Pacific Coast interested in the salmon industry and on the part of the American public generally that there has been established a superior interest and claim in the salmon resources of Alaska.

Large bodies of American citizens are of the opinion that the salmon runs of Bristol Bay and elsewhere in Alaskan waters are an American resource; that the salmon fisheries relate to and are linked with the American continent, particularly the northwest area; and that for all practical purposes, the salmon industry is in fact a part of the economic life of the Pacific northwest coast. The fact that salmon taken from waters off the Alaskan coast are spawned and hatched in American inland waters, and when intercepted are returning to American waters, adds further to the conviction that there is in these resources a special and unmistakable American interest.

The Bristol Bay red salmon spawn in the tributary rivers and lakes of the adjacent region; the young hatch and remain in their fresh water habitat for 1 or 2 years and then migrate to sea. After the seaward migration the salmon return in 2 or 3 years to their native streams where they spawn and die. It is during the spawning migration that salmon are exposed to commercial fishing, and the need for conservation measures arises.

In the principal Alaska fishing areas, and particularly in Bristol Bay, salmon appear in runs near the surface of the water and, in large part because of the shallowness of these waters, are subject to capture chiefly after they have passed from the open ocean to the continental shelf. The continental shelf, extending for a considerable distance from shore, thus becomes a kind of bridge between the deep sea and the inland rivers and lakes where salmon spawn.

American fishermen are aware that salmon fishing operations can be successfully conducted in the comparatively shallow off-shore area of certain Alaskan waters; and that by using motor-powered vessels, long and deep fishing nets, and special seines the per capita [Page 766] catch of salmon may be greatly increased. The prospect of the use of these more effective methods by Japanese nationals engaging in off-shore fishing in Alaskan waters, while similar methods are denied to American fishermen, has provoked among American citizens expressions of serious concern and resentment. It is clear to all that if foreign nationals are permitted to carry on fishing operations off the shores of Alaska, the conservation efforts of the American Government would in a comparatively short period be completely nullified, whatever the intentions of those engaged in such fishing operations. Such an eventuality would be all the more deplorable for the reason that no conceivable economic gain would compensate the nationals of Japan for the probable destruction, however unintentional, of resources developed through the general efforts of American citizens.

The economic welfare of the Pacific Coast and the perpetuation of the salmon industry are peculiarly interdependent. Employees engaged in the fisheries and the capital invested in them come largely from the states of the Pacific northwest. The Alaska salmon industry in turn has been developed from a single cannery producing 12,500 cases in 1878 to an industry which in 1936 comprised 117 modern canneries, employed 25,000 persons, and packed approximately 8½ million cases of salmon. Bristol Bay operations began with an experimental pack of 400 cases, and by 1936 24 canneries were in operation, 8,000 persons were employed, and the salmon packed in 1936 amounted to 1½ million cases.

The Alaska salmon industry is not only of importance in itself but has had and continues to have a direct and important influence upon allied and related industries, in which many thousands of American citizens are employed. Ship-builders, transportation companies, insurance companies, banks, and producers of marine supplies and fishing equipment on the Pacific Coast, have predicated their investments and operating plans on the expectation of normal levels of production in the salmon industry. It is reliably estimated that the Alaska canned salmon industry as a whole annually pays to steamship companies for the handling of passengers and freight approximately $3,500,000, pays about $7,500,000 for canning materials, and expends roughly $15,000,000 in taxes and for supplies incident to the operation of the salmon industry. The manufacture of supplies and equipment for the fishing industry contributes substantially to employment and industrial enterprise not only in the Pacific Coast area but in widely separated regions of the country.

The interest of the residents of Alaska in the adjacent fishing waters is also real and vital. Upon the maintenance of a prosperous salmon fishing industry depends the entire fiscal and economic welfare of the Territory of Alaska. About 80 percent of the public revenues [Page 767] are derived from the salmon fishing industry. It is clear therefore that not only expenditures for the ordinary functions of the Government of Alaska but also funds for the maintenance of its school system and public institutions depend upon the perpetuation of the salmon resources of Alaskan waters. It is also an important fact that Alaska’s trade with the United States is confined to water transportation, and the facilities upon which such intercourse is based are indirectly dependent upon the stability and prosperity of the salmon industry.

The views hereinbefore expressed are strongly supported by members of Congress, the Delegate to Congress from the Territory of Alaska, a large section of the American press, and business interests and residents of the Pacific Coast generally. Unless there is found a prompt solution to the question of affording adequate protection to the salmon resources of Alaska, there is every likelihood that existing tension will be further increased and the situation further complicated.

Notwithstanding the fact that the American Government has counseled against and actively discouraged any group of citizens from taking action which might make more difficult an adjustment by diplomatic processes the issues which have arisen, this Government has reason to believe that there may be efforts made by various elements on the Pacific Coast to initiate activities calculated to disturb the commercial relations of this country and Japan. There must also be envisaged the possibility of the occurrence of serious and unforeseen incidents between American and Japanese fishermen in the fishing areas over which controversy has arisen.

It is important to consider in this situation the actual and potential influence of the radio and press. Through both of these mediums of publicity the attention of the American public is frequently called to the presence of Japanese vessels in Bristol Bay and the potential injury which such vessels might inflict upon American employment and investments in the Alaska salmon industry. Stimulated and encouraged by this publicity, the organized longshoremen at Pacific ports already have gone on record as contemplating action toward the disruption of commercial relations between Japan and the United States through the suspension of the handling of Japanese freight cargo. The possibility of the Maritime Federation’s taking action in support of the fishermen’s unions is increased by the fact that the majority of American fishermen have their permanent residence on the Pacific Coast and are members of the Federation.

The broader public apprehension in regard to the salmon fisheries is reflected in draft legislation recently introduced into Congress for the protection of the Alaska salmon industry. This proposed legislation is conceived by its supporters to be based upon just and equitable principles [Page 768] flowing generally from the consideration that American citizens have established prior superior rights and interests with respect to the resources in question. Moreover the support of the proposed legislation is increasing and, both in and out of Congress, is becoming national instead of sectional in character.

The American Government is confident that the Japanese Government will realize the seriousness of the problem involved in this situation and the urgency of there being taken early and effective action to dispose of it. The American Government also believes that any solution or arrangement arrived at for the protection of Alaska salmon resources should cover not only the Bristol Bay area but also include and afford protection to all principal American salmon fishing waters adjacent to the Territory of Alaska. The emphasis which has been placed in this statement upon the situation in Bristol Bay arises from the fact that the activities of Japanese fishing vessels have been chiefly observed there; it should not be inferred for this reason that a similar situation in other Alaskan waters would be of less concern to American fishing interests.

Having in mind the high importance of the Alaska salmon fisheries as an industry fostered and perpetuated through the efforts and economic sacrifices of the American people, the American Government believes that the safeguarding of these resources involves important principles of equity and justice. It must be taken as a sound principle of justice that an industry such as described which has been built up by the nationals of one country cannot in fairness be left to be destroyed by the nationals of other countries. The American Government believes that the right or obligation to protect the Alaska salmon fisheries is not only overwhelmingly sustained by conditions of their development and perpetuation, but that it is a matter which must be regarded as important in the comity of the nations concerned. These beliefs are reinforced by the fundamental consideration that Americans will always regard each appearance of a foreign fishing vessel in Alaskan waters as a danger or threat to their employment and general welfare.

Instruction contained in Department’s no. 308.