Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Eugene H. Dooman, Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State (Dunn)

Sir George Sansom46 called this afternoon at my request.

I handed Sir George the text of the policy decisions with regard to coastal fisheries and the continental shelf, along with brief explanatory statements.47 Sir George read through the papers very rapidly and remarked [Page 1505] that they appeared to concern themselves primarily with the conservation aspect of both the fisheries and the mineral resources of the continental shelf. I said that that was quite correct. I gave Sir George an account of the recent improvements in the technique of drilling for oil, and I said that we would have to anticipate today the possibility of foreign nations engaging in operations in the Coast [Gulf?] of Mexico and off the coast of California. It was not our desire to reserve the resources of the continental shelf to nationals of this country any more than it was the policy of the United States to exclude foreigners from participating in the exploitation of the mineral resources of the United States itself. Our primary concern was to assert the necessary control over such operations off the coasts of the United States to guard against the depletion of our mineral resources and to regulate, from point of view of security, the activities of foreigners in proximity to our coast.

I went on to say that I was not quite certain whether the principles set forth in our continental shelf paper would be applicable in waters off the coast of the United Kingdom, but I believe that it would be of interest for the British to study in connection with conditions off the coast of certain territories in which there was a strong British interest, especially in the Arabian peninsula.

I explained to Sir George that we believed it highly desirable, before publicly adopting the continental shelf policy as well as the coastal fisheries policy, to provide the British Government with an opportunity to study the two documents. We sincerely hoped that the British Government would find it to its advantage to take action concurrently with this Government along the lines which we proposed to take. I did not know precisely when or how the two policies would be established, but I thought it likely that something would be done during the course of the next month or two.

Returning to the coastal fisheries matter, I reviewed at some length the inadequacies of existing concepts in respect to fisheries for the purpose of conserving our fishery resources. I referred to the increasing use of such fishing techniques as factory ships, and I described at some length the importance attached by some countries to fisheries, not as a means for providing their populations with an important food, but as an operation calculated to improve their international trade position. I also described at some length the efforts of the British Government to set up an international fishery convention for the entire North Atlantic. I said that we did not participate in the conference at London in 1943,48 as it was our view that any scheme for conservation covering a large number of fisheries, with their [Page 1506] differing needs, would be ineffective. Further, we were not convinced that any safeguards set up to conserve the fishery resources of the North Sea would stand up against the desire of the impoverished peoples of Europe for a nourishing protein food obtainable without foreign exchange. If then the North Sea fisheries became depleted, there would be considerable likelihood of the European countries turning to the fisheries off the coast of North America. I emphasized that it was not our intention to interfere in any way with the established interests of European countries in the fisheries on this side of the Atlantic: in fact it was our desire to respect those interests. On the other hand failure to set up today proper safeguards against excessive exploitation of the fisheries might well result in the eventual loss to the entire human race of a valuable food resource.

I explained finally to Sir George that it would not be possible for us to lay before him a full explanation of the reasons which entered into the making of our decision. I had no doubt that study on the part of the British Government of the materials which we were providing him today would raise a number of questions, and we would be prepared to respond to those questions to the best of our ability. Sir George said that he was not competent to express any opinion on the matter, but that he hoped to send the papers forward to London by air within the next day or two. He would at the same time urge his Government to give the matter immediate and careful study with a view to giving us some indication of its position in the matter.

  1. Adviser to the British Ambassador, with rank of Minister.
  2. Copies of the texts, with explanatory statements, were forwarded by the Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom on May 11. In telegram 3666, May 10, to London, the Department requested that Raymond Gushue, Newfoundland Commissioner, be informed that copies of the texts were being sent to the Newfoundland Commissioner for Natural Resources and to the Canadian Government (811.0145/5–1045).
  3. For the Final Act of this Conference, see British Cmd. 6496, Misc. No. 5 (1943): Final Act of the International Fisheries Conference, London, 22 October 1943.