The Secretary of State to the Embassy in Norway


The Secretary of State refers to the Embassy’s despatch No. 556, dated September 27, 1950,1 concerning certain questions which were asked by an official of the Norwegian Foreign Office regarding the United States Presidential Proclamation of September 28, 1945 on the subject of coastal fisheries.2 These questions are dealt with in the order in which they appear in the Embassy’s despatch.

The Presidential Proclamation under reference does not represent a new concept in international law, nor does it alter in any way the pre-existing regime of the high seas. Unfortunately, there has been a tendency, particularly among states in this Hemisphere, to confound the effect of this Proclamation by relating it to international law, whereas in reality the Proclamation is properly identified as a declaration of United States fishery policy with respect to the activities in contiguous high seas of its citizens. The right of a state to [Page 894] exercise jurisdiction over its nationals on the high seas has long been acknowledged as an attribute of the sovereign power of a state over its citizens or subjects. President Truman’s fisheries Proclamation merely constitutes an exercise of that right in so far as fishing operations by United States citizens in contiguous high seas are concerned. Therefore, instead of representing a new principle of international law, the Proclamation merely declares the intention of the United States to regulate the fishing activities of its citizens on contiguous high seas where such regulation is found necessary in order to conserve and protect fishery resources. Admittedly, the United States may not legally require compliance with its conservation regulations by fishermen of other states in international waters. Where a particular fishery is exploited solely by United State fishermen a problem in that respect does not arise. However, it is recognized that in many instances other states will also be operating on the same fishery, in which case, in order to make the conservation measures fully effective, there must be full cooperation by all parties involved. The only practical way in which the necessary cooperation can be achieved in such cases is through agreement with the other state concerned, which state shall, of course, also have a voice in the formulation of appropriate regulations. The fisheries Proclamation contemplates such agreements between the United States and other states where there is a joint interest in the fishery to be regulated.
It will be observed, therefore, that prior to the issuance of this Proclamation the United States had the right to regulate the fishing activities of its citizens on the high seas, but not the fishing operations in such waters of nationals of other states without the consent of those states. This situation still prevails, the Proclamation not having affected pre-existing rights of any state under international law.
The term “contiguous” as used in the Proclamation to describe the area of the high seas covered by it is not capable of precise definition. Contiguous waters are not defined in terms of miles or depth and are not coextensive with the continental shelf. It would, however, be correct to say that the outer limit of waters contiguous to the coasts of the United States could not logically be so located as to embrace a broad expanse of seas far distant from the coast, as, for example, to the territorial limits of the Philippines.
The question pertaining to the adequacy of the three-mile principle for the protection of fisheries is not fully understood. For a great many years the three-mile marginal belt has been far removed from many of the principal fishing grounds. If sovereignty over the fishing grounds were essential to the protection of the fish stocks then the three-mile rule is wholly inadequate. However, the development of fishery conservation in this century has not justified or necessitated [Page 895] an extension of sovereignty by coastal states in order to prevent depletion of the fish stocks. Effective conservation can be achieved consistently with present territorial limits and without affecting the international character of the high seas. In recognition of this fact, the fisheries Proclamation, as indicated above, contemplates the formulation by the United States of appropriate conservation regulations either unilaterally or jointly with other states, depending upon whether the United States has a sole or a joint interest in the particular high seas fishery to be conserved. Examples of joint undertakings in this regard are the halibut and salmon conservation treaties between the United States and Canada, the tuna investigatory conventions between the United States and Mexico and Costa Rica, and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Convention which was signed on behalf of the United States and nine other countries, including Norway.

The Officer in Charge is authorized, in his discretion, to communicate the contents of this instruction on an informal basis to the official who put these questions to the Embassy.

  1. Not printed.
  2. For documentation on the formulation of United States policy on the resources of the (North American) Continental Shelf and on coastal fisheries, see Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. ii, pp. 1481 ff.