The Ambassador in Mexico (Thurston) to the Secretary of State

No. 1221

Subject: Detention by Mexican Government of American Fishing Boats in the Port of Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche.

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Embassy’s Despatch No. 1186 dated September 17, 1946, on the above captioned subject, to its Telegram No. 841 dated September 18,57 and to previous correspondence with regard to the detention of American fishing vessels off the Mexican coast.

As stated in the Embassy’s telegram cited, the Mexican Minister of Marine sent telegraphic instructions on September 18 to the Naval Zone Commander at Ciudad del Carmen to release the nine vessels, after the fine of 1,000 pesos each had been paid by the first four detained; and authorizing them to fish for two days in waters off the Campeche coast outside of the nine-mile limit.

Mr. Reveley, Secretary of Embassy, accompanied Messrs. Frederick Ernst and Felice Golino, owners of seven of the nine vessels, to the Mexican Ministry of Marine on the morning of September 18. Messrs. Ernst and Golino were introduced to Captain Rigoberto Otál, the Director of the Mexican Fisheries Department. Captain Otál accompanied Messrs. Ernst and Golino and the Embassy representative to the office of the Minister, General Heriberto Jar a. Mr. Reveley stated to General Jara that he did not desire at this time to enter into a discussion with regard to United States and Mexican concepts of the limits of territorial waters; but that the masters of the nine boats [Page 1061] desire to return to Louisiana and to fish en route in the waters of the high seas off the Campeche coast without being molested by public vessels of Mexico. General Jara was informed that the captains of the four vessels first detained were prepared to pay the fines of one thousand pesos each levied against them; and that the owners of the nine vessels had requested the assistance of the Embassy to the end that they be allowed to fish for shrimp off the coast of Campeche en route home.

General Jara stated that to his knowledge the continental shelf extended for a distance considerably more than nine miles off the coast of Campeche; that the vessels obviously desired to fish in waters covering the shelf; and that the President of Mexico by a decree issued last year claimed these waters as part of the national domain of the Republic. Mr. Reveley told General Jara he believed that Mexico’s claim to the waters covering the continental shelf would not become law until amendment to Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, approved last year by the Congress, is ratified by the necessary number of the states and promulgated by the President in the Diario Oficial. Regardless of this legal process, General Jara said that Mexico considers the resources of the sea off the Campeche coast as the property of Mexico. He added that he would, however, instruct the Commander of the Second Naval Zone at Ciudad del Carmen, to allow all of the vessels to depart, after the four fines had been paid, and that they could fish for a period of two days in waters off the Campeche coast beyond the nine-mile limit. He then instructed Captain Otál to draft the telegraphic instruction to the Commander of the Naval Zone in Ciudad del Carmen.

Reference is made to the statement in the second paragraph on Page 358 of the Embassy’s Despatch No. 1186 dated September 17, to the effect that the Embassy believes that instructions from the Department are necessary before it can make representations based on the views of the United States Government expressed in 1936 with regard to the limits of the territorial waters of Mexico. It is suggested therefore for the consideration of the Department that the Embassy be instructed to inform the Mexican Foreign Office along the following lines: that the United States Government, with reference to the claim of Mexico to the waters covering the continental shelf, holds to the views expressed in the Department’s confidential note to the Mexican Ambassador in Washington dated January 24, 1946. Also, that pending the conclusion of a fisheries treaty between the two countries, it maintains that American fishing vessels have the right to fish in waters off the coast of Mexico that are considered as [Page 1062] the high seas in accordance with the generally accepted principles of International Law; and that pending the ratification to the Amendment of Article 27 of the Constitution and the conclusion of a fisheries treaty, the United States Government maintains that American fishing vessels are fully entitled to fish in waters covering the continental shelf off the coast of Mexico and beyond the three-mile limit.

The Embassy believes that any presentation of the United States Government’s views on this subject at the present time, made in any other than a direct manner, would lead to an extended exchange of correspondence of a controversial nature. It is therefore respectfully suggested that a concise statement as given above or similarly worded should be presented to the Mexican Government in the form of a note from the Ambassador to the Mexican Foreign Minister.

Respectfully yours,

Walter Thurston
  1. Latter not printed.
  2. The penultimate paragraph.