711.008 North Pacific/247: Telegram

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

20. Your 669, December 22, 8 p.m.2

Section 1. The Department offers comment and suggestions for oral communication to the Minister for Foreign Affairs3 as follows:

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The American Government appreciates the spirit in which the Japanese Government has replied to its representations, and also the view the Japanese Government has taken relative to the possible effect of the Alaska fishery situation upon the relations between Japan and the United States. The American Government has carefully examined the proposals of the Japanese Government contained in the Foreign Office’s note verbale and draft of proposed press communiqué, with particular reference to the question of whether or not the steps they contemplate would effectively accomplish the objective which both Governments have in view, i. e., the allaying of the existing ill-feeling and inflamed public sentiment arising from Japanese salmon fishing in Alaskan waters and the prevention of conditions likely to exacerbate feeling and disturb the commercial relations of our two countries.

2. The American Government has, with appreciation, taken note of the renewed assurance that the Japanese Government will continue in the future, as in the past, to refrain from issuing licenses to fish for salmon in Alaskan waters. In view of all the conditions and the serious consequences which might ensue from any other course, the American Government welcomes this concrete evidence by the Japanese Government of its willingness to help solve a problem of real gravity.

3. The American Government has also taken note of the assurance of the Japanese Government that it will discontinue its fishery survey and, for the time being, will suppress pertinent plans of fishing industries. These assurances thus given by the Japanese Government, if accompanied by the further steps hereinafter suggested, will constitute a logical foundation upon which to proceed to a permanent solution of the fisheries problem.

4. With respect to the suggested press release, however, the American Government must point out that if hostile feeling on the part of American fishing interests is to be successfully allayed, it is essential that the American Government should be able publicly to announce the steps that the Japanese Government has taken toward meeting the situation set forth in the latter’s [former’s] memorandum of November 24, 1937.4 Without such public announcement, the American Government feels that it will be unable to cope successfully with the growing feeling of resentment. The American Government earnestly hopes that since our common objective can in no other way be achieved, the Japanese Government will have no objection to such an announcement being made by this Government.

The American Government believes that one further step is essential if the existing feeling of concern and apprehension is to be allayed. [Page 164] Up to this time the American Government has not objected to Japanese fishermen in Alaskan waters engaging in taking crabs and the producing of fish meal from fish other than salmon. The American Government is now in possession of evidence to the effect that Japanese fishermen, ostensibly engaged in these activities, have in fact engaged in salmon fishing. In order to make possible the prevention in the future of such unauthorized activities and in order successfully to convince American fishermen that such operations are not taking place, the American Government would suggest that the two Governments enter into an informal understanding whereby some American agency, possibly the Coast Guard or the Bureau of Fisheries, could make occasional friendly visits to Japanese fishing vessels in order to see clearly that such vessels are not taking salmon on a commercial scale. We feel that by this means popular suspicion in regard to the operations of Japanese fishing vessels might be effectively eliminated. It seems to the American Government self-evident that unless some practical method of ensuring against Japanese boats engaging in salmon fishing in the waters under reference on a commercial scale can be effected, it will be impossible to prevent increased public tension and thus to achieve the object which both Governments have in view.

The American Government believes that if the Japanese Government will agree to these suggestions a solution of the present difficulties can be achieved, and further, that the two Governments will then be in a position to work out in the same spirit of friendly collaboration a constructive, permanent solution with respect to the problem of salmon fisheries.

Section 2. For discretionary use in discussion with the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

5. While the Department has come to the conclusion that the substance of the reply of the Foreign Office to your representations does not go far enough to satisfy the affected American interests, it is realized that your negotiations have achieved important results which we should conserve and utilize. To this end the Department envisages an informal agreement with the Japanese Government embodying the following points: (a) assurance that Japanese nationals will not be granted licenses to fish for salmon in Alaskan waters, (b) discontinuance of the Japanese Government’s fishery survey, (c) consent to visit and inspection of fishing vessels, and (d) consent of the Japanese Government to a suitable public statement by the American Government regarding the agreement. The public statement issued here should be explicit, and preferably in the words of this Government. As the Japanese Government is in position to exercise a degree of censorship, it might be agreed that the public statement released by [Page 165] the American Government should be somewhat more explicit than that released by the Japanese Government.

6. The Department has ascertained from the Bureau of Fisheries that the proposed inspection arrangement should be made applicable to the following waters: The waters of Bristol Bay extending westward to a line drawn from Cape Cheerful on Unalaska Island, to Cape Avinof on the mainland; also all other waters extending a distance of 60 nautical miles from the shores of the mainland and islands of the Territory of Alaska.

7. The Department has taken note of the following statement in the Japanese note verbale: “The Imperial Government firmly believes in the justice of its contention that so long as salmon fishing is carried on on the high seas such fishing cannot warrantably be subjected to restriction by another power.” Should this point be further emphasized you might comment that the right of fishing has long been regarded by a number of countries as pertaining to the land, and that it is not unusual for nations to reserve coast fisheries to their nationals, especially when the production of these fisheries is threatened by destructive or uncontrollable methods of fishing. This is particularly warrantable in the case of salmon fisheries which, more than others, are exposed to ruinous exploitation.

8. In endeavoring to impress upon the Japanese Government the importance of meeting substantially this Government’s suggestions you should reemphasize such arguments brought out in the Department’s memorandum as you consider most effective, stressing especially that the affected interests are becoming more and more restive; that the Department is continuously receiving fresh evidence of this; and that there continues to be the greatest danger of activities calculated to disturb the commercial relations of this country and Japan. There is also current in the press, on the radio, and in the news reels, publicity which this Government is powerless to prevent and which not infrequently places Japan in an unfavorable light with respect to the fishing activities of Japanese nationals in Alaskan waters.

9. I hope that you will make clear to the Japanese Government that one point which we have especially in mind is common and cooperative effort to allay the popular ill-feeling which tends to injure good relations between the two countries. Furthermore, should the American Government not have, as a matter of comity and in harmony with principles of equity, the necessary collaboration of the Japanese Government, impetus may be given to the growing disposition both in and out of Congress to resort to legislation for the protection of the Alaska fisheries. The Department is at this moment confronted with urgent requests here for its views upon pending legislative proposals for the protection of fisheries.

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10. The Administration has taken and continues to take special interest in this problem.

  1. Foreign Relations, 1937, vol. iv, p. 777.
  2. Koki Hirota.
  3. See telegram No. 563, November 24, 1937, 5 p.m., from the Ambassador in Japan, Foreign Relations, 1937, vol. iv p. 772.