The Acting Secretary of State to the Mexican Ambassador (Espinosa de los Monteros)


Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your note of December 14, 194546 transmitting a copy of the declaration of October 29, 1945 by the President of Mexico47 with respect to your Government’s claim to the continental shelf48 adjacent to the coast of Mexico and to the natural resources thereof.

The Government of the United States has been pleased to note the declaration of October 29 as an indication of the Mexican Government’s recognition of the importance and desirability of conserving and protecting the natural resources which may be found in offshore areas in order that they may be utilized and perpetuated for the benefit [Page 1055] of mankind. It is realized that in issuing this declaration the President of Mexico was prompted by the same long range considerations with respect to the conservation and wise utilization of natural resources that were the basis of the proclamations relative to the resources of the subsoil and sea bed of the continental shelf and to coastal fisheries issued by President Truman on September 28, 1945.49 It is gratifying that the Mexican Government has taken similar action that should facilitate cooperative arrangements between our two Governments for the solution of fishery problems of mutual concern.

The following comments are based on your note and on certain articles which appeared in Mexican newspapers subsequent to the publication of the declaration. The comments relate only to fisheries.

It has been noted that in the declaration of October 29 the Mexican Government indicates its readiness to recognize the rights and interests of other states in the resources affected. It is confidently expected that the policy embodied in the declaration will be carried out with respect to fisheries through cooperative arrangements with other interested governments along lines similar to those contemplated in President Truman’s proclamation of September 28 with regard to coastal fishery resources. It has been noted with satisfaction that the Mexican declaration specifically takes account of the “legitimate rights of a third party on reciprocal bases”. The Government of the United States regards the recognition by the coastal state of such rights as a necessary prerequisite to recognition by other states of an extension of jurisdiction over high seas areas for purposes of fishery conservation. It is therefore understood that the recognition of legitimate rights of other states referred to in the Mexican declaration is to be construed as recognition of the legitimate interests which nationals of the United States or of other countries now have or may in the future develop with respect to the fishery resources found in the area outside of Mexican territorial waters and adjacent thereto.

It will be recalled that President Truman’s proclamation with respect to coastal fisheries gives full protection to the legitimate fishing activities which have been or may be developed and maintained by nationals of other states off the coasts of the United States. In announcing its policy with respect to the establishment of conservation zones for coastal fishery resources, the Government of the United States recognized that when zones are established for areas in which [Page 1056] fishing activities have been or shall be legitimately maintained by nationals of other states as well as by nationals of the United States, these zones should be established under agreements between the United States and such other states. While the United States welcomes the establishment of conservation zones in areas of the high seas off the shores of other states where necessary for conservation of fisheries, the establishment and exercise of jurisdiction over such zones are recognized solely for the purpose of conserving and protecting this marine resource, and will be recognized only on the condition that adequate recognition is given to United States fishing interests in the area affected by the establishment of such zones.

It is anticipated that measures which may be adopted by the Government of Mexico to make the recent declaration effective50 with respect to fishery resources will be based on scientific findings showing the need for such measures from the standpoint of conservation and will be developed through cooperative arrangements with the United States in so far as the rights or interests of the United States or its nationals may be affected. This expectation is based on mutual recognition by our two Governments of the necessity for full cooperation in achieving, through measures based on sound scientific investigation, effective conservation of the fishery resources which are of concern to the United States and Mexico.

It has been noted that articles in Novedades and El Nacional for October 31, 194551 contain references to the discussions held in Washington in September 1944 by the Informal Joint Mexican-American Committee on International Fisheries with respect to various problems involving the fisheries interests of the two countries. While it was realized at that time that some statement might be made to the effect that the Committee had met to discuss problems of mutual concern, it was our understanding that the recommendations of the Committee with respect to a possible fisheries treaty between the two countries52 [Page 1057] were to be held in strict confidence pending the conclusion of the proposed treaty. We were therefore surprised to observe references to these recommendations in the newspaper articles under reference.

While it is realized that the Government of Mexico, of course, is not responsible for the inferences which the newspapers appear to have drawn from these recommendations, it is believed advisable to clarify certain points in order to avoid any possible misunderstanding which might arise in the future in consequence of such newspaper comment. Accordingly, you may wish to bring the following points, which embody our understanding of the Committee’s functions, to the attention of the appropriate Mexican authorities:

The Informal Joint Mexican-American Committee on International Fisheries was set up to investigate, study and report on problems arising in connection with fisheries of mutual interest to the two countries. However, decision as to any action which might be taken on the basis of the Committee’s findings and recommendations remains with the two Governments.
The agreement by the members of the Committee on recommendations to be made to their respective Governments as bases for a possible fisheries treaty, although of considerable advisory assistance to the two Governments, cannot be considered as constituting a binding acceptance by either Government of these recommendations.
The recommendations of the Committee were for consideration by the two Governments in the negotiation of a fisheries treaty or as a basis for other cooperative international action, and do not in themselves constitute authorization or agreement by members of the Committee or by their respective Governments to measures which, while in the interest of fishery conservation, are not founded on agreement between the two Governments.

The foregoing comments are made in a most friendly and cooperative spirit, and only in an effort to clarify certain points with respect to the declaration of October 29 in order to avoid any possible misunderstanding.

While the observations contained herein have reference to the conservation of coastal fisheries resources, the Government of the United States may wish to present certain comments with respect to the administration of the subsoil resources of the continental shelf, particularly petroleum deposits, after further study has been given to the matter.

I wish to reiterate this Government’s pleasure at Mexico’s declaration in recognition of the necessity for conserving important natural resources found in offshore areas, and to express the hope that the two countries will continue to work in mutual cooperation toward the achievement of the broad and basic principles and purposes underlying the recent proclamations and declaration of our two Governments [Page 1058] which should lay the foundation for the conservation, development and prudent utilization of natural resources of inestimable value to the peoples of both countries.

Accept [etc.]

For the Acting Secretary of State:
William L. Clayton
  1. Not printed.
  2. Manuel Avila Camacho.
  3. The continental shelf was defined in a memorandum of January 30, 1946, by the Chief of the Division of Mexican Affairs (Carrigan) to the Director of the Office of American Republic Affairs (Briggs), as follows: “The portion of the undersea bed contiguous to the shore, stretching from the low-tide line to a line connecting points where the depth of the waters above the undersea bed reaches, in the case of the U.S., 600 feet, and, in the case of Mexico 200 meters.” The Mexican continental shelf doctrine, according to this memorandum, presented a basic problem defined as follows:

    “… American fisheries operations have, in the Gulf and Yucatan areas and possibly along the West Coast, been carried out in high-seas areas presumably affected by the Mexican principle. Mexico will probably hold that the fish in these waters are a part of Mexico’s national domain, and that our fishermen will now have to pay taxes to Mexico if they desire to fish in the waters which cover the Mexican continental shelf. In the past, our people have not had to pay taxes on fish caught outside of territorial waters, which Mexico claims to be nine miles from the coast, and they will undoubtedly protest vigorously this requirement.” (811.0145/1–2146)

  4. The President issued two proclamations on September 28, 1945, asserting (1) the jurisdiction of the United States over the natural resources of the continental shelf under the high seas contiguous to the coasts of the United States and its territories (10 Federal Register 12303), and providing for (2) the establishment of conservation zones for the protection of fisheries in certain areas of the high seas contiguous to the United States (10 Federal Register 12304). For documentation on this subject, see Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. ii, pp. 1481 ff.
  5. Approval by the Mexican Congress of proposed amendments to articles 27, 42 and 48 of the Mexican Constitution was reported in despatch 27,982, January 17, 1946, from Mexico City (812.0145/1–1746). By these changes, the policy announced by the President of the Republic pertaining to the domination by Mexico of the resources in the sub-soil of its continental shelf and domination of the waters covering its continental shelf would become law of the country upon completion of the legislative process. Further legislative and administrative actions to bring the constitutional amendment into effect were not completed in 1946.
  6. Copies transmitted to the Department in despatch 27,076, November 2, 1945, from Mexico City, not printed.
  7. In despatch 27,899, January 8, from Mexico City, Ambassador Messersmith transmitted copy of a note addressed to the Mexican Minister for Foreign Affairs requesting information with regard to the views of the Government of Mexico on a revised draft fisheries treaty between the United States and Mexico that was delivered to the Foreign Office in August 1945 (812.628/1–846). The Mexican views on the draft treaty were not received during 1946.