711.008 North Pacific/420: Telegram

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

727. Department’s instruction 1589, October 17, Alaska salmon fishery.

I greatly appreciate receiving this interesting discussion of a difficult and important problem. The opportunity which the Department has given me to express my views on the timeliness of an approach to the Japanese Government if made at the present conjuncture and to offer suggestions with regard to possible alternative action is also appreciated. I should be doing less than my duty if I were not to present my views with all frankness on a matter of such primary importance, but in doing so I wish to make it entirely clear that, should the Department, after weighing all the factors involved, decide to make the contemplated approach, the Department may count on me to present its views with all the vigor at my command.
In the following discussion we are assuming that if we were to proceed along the lines proposed we would be obliged virtually at the outset to disclose at least the basis of the contemplated agreement, as otherwise the Japanese Government would almost certainly not show its hand.
We find it necessary, in considering the question of timeliness, to approach it from several directions. Due regard must be given, we believe to the fact that the salmon fishery question has been under [Page 198] discussion over a period of 10 years. These discussions have served to show that, whereas the interests of the United States lie in conservation, Japan is interested at present only in exploitation of marine resources. It must therefore be emphasized that this question cannot be dealt with at this time as a self-contained problem dissociated from other problems both political and economic. In the light of the discussions with the Foreign Office preceding the understanding of March 25, we can see no prospect whatever of the Japanese Government modifying its initial position and giving its assent either at this time or in the near future to the agreement envisaged by the Department. The question of timeliness thus reduces itself to its purely negative aspect, that is, whether or not the suggested approach if made at this time would have adverse repercussions.
A review of this case from its inception will indicate that the Japanese Government has persistently clung to, first, the general point, that it cannot without due compensation agree to abandon any of its rights secured under international law, and, second, the specific point, that it cannot afford to prejudice its interests in the Siberian fishery by making any conclusive concession to the United States. We assume from the second paragraph, page 7 of the instruction, that the agreement contemplated by the Department is to be only an informal agreement, either oral or effected by an exchange of notes, and not a formal convention. The Japanese Government is required to submit for approval any proposed bilateral arrangement, in whatever manner to be effected, to the Privy Council. As the agreement contemplated by the Department would appear to be a bilateral arrangement, it would have to be submitted for approval to the Privy Council, where it would probably run afoul of the general point above mentioned. In any event, it is unlikely that the matter would develop to that point, as we do not believe that the Japanese Government would favorably consider the thesis of proprietary rights in salmon so long as Japanese rights in the Siberian salmon fisheries are not permanently secured.
We cannot too strongly emphasize, in further relation to the question of timeliness, the Japanese conviction that the question of Japanese participation in the Alaska salmon fisheries was raised by individuals and organizations on the Pacific Coast who successfully agitated for the exclusion of Japanese immigrants, and who are more interested in perpetuating a political question than in solving an objective technical problem. The charges impugning the motives of the individuals and this [sic] need not be gone into but we feel that the Department should know that the thus far unsubstantiated charge that the Japanese have engaged in salmon fishing has confirmed Japanese belief that the fishery question was raised and is being kept alive [Page 199] as a political issue. If the fishery question were reopened in the manner proposed at this time, when the United States is challenging Japanese violation of American rights in China,30 our approach would almost certainly be regarded as the opening gun in a program of retaliation.
As we see it, no progress can be made at this time, toward obtaining by agreement the assent of Japan to the thesis of proprietary rights in salmon, and per contra an urgent proposal that Japan accept that thesis would probably have adverse repercussions in various directions. In short, even the barest possibility of Japan giving such proposal favorable consideration at the time must, we believe, be ruled out. Yet, if circumstances in the United States require that there be placed on the record the giving to Japan of a further opportunity to place the fishery question on a more stable basis than that on which it now rests, there occurs to us an alternative procedure which would carry less risk of political repercussions but without offering greater prospect of evoking a favorable response, and that would be to represent again to the Japanese Government the benefits of participation in a multilateral convention such as that proposed to the Japanese Foreign Office on July 5, 1937 (see our despatch 2301, July 29 [2501, July 9, 193731]).
The Alaska salmon question cannot now, and probably for many years to come, be dealt with solely on its economic and legal merits. To reopen it today would be to add another to the many factors requiring consideration in case Japanese policy and attitude with regard to American rights and interests in China should call for a reformulation of American policy and attitude toward Japan. The salmon fisheries issue therefore lies in the field of high policy, general rather than specific policy, and to approach or to deal with it otherwise would in our opinion bring negative results and a probable aggravation of the difficult relations now existing between the United States and Japan.
  1. See Foreign Relations, 1938, vol. iv, pp. 1 ff.
  2. Despatch not printed; but see telegram No. 179, July 6, 1937, 6 p.m., from the Ambassador in Japan, ibid., 1937, vol. iv, p. 752.