232. Letter From the Acting Secretary of State to the Secretary of the Treasury (Humphrey)1

Dear Mr. Secretary: Recent developments make it necessary immediately to increase Coast Guard patrol activities in the waters off the Gulf Coast of Mexico.

During recent years Mexican patrol vessels have at somewhat lengthy and irregular intervals seized American shrimp boats for fishing within Mexican territorial waters. Evidence concerning the location of the boats, although generally rather conflicting, usually indicated that they were seized for fishing within three miles off the coast of Mexico. Recently the number of seizures has increased with some being taken between three and nine miles off the coast of Mexico, an area claimed by Mexico as territorial waters.

Beginning in June of this year there has been increasing evidence from reliable sources in the United States fishing industry that the Mexican patrols now are seizing boats in the area beyond nine miles off the coast of Mexico. During the present week at least six boats have been reported seized at distances between nine and fifteen miles from the Mexican coast north of Tampico. This new development, coupled with the radical position Mexican representatives have taken at recent international meetings concerned with the freedom of the sea, strongly indicates that the Mexican Government is beginning to implement a new and much more extreme policy with respect to her claims to territorial waters and jurisdiction over fishery resources. The recent intensified and extreme measures taken [Page 732]by Mexican naval patrols against American shrimp boats, which now generally concentrate their fishing activities in waters more than nine miles from the coast of Mexico, has given rise to widespread and intense indignation in the industry with increasing demands for retaliation. It is reported that guns are being taken aboard some shrimp fishing vessels and serious incidents are almost sure to develop unless immediate action is taken to ameliorate the situation.

In order to facilitate United States action regarding this situation, reliable data are needed concerning the positions and circumstances of seizures. The only practical way to obtain such data is through Coast Guard patrols which may be assigned to the area. Therefore, it is requested that the Coast Guard immediately and on a temporary basis increase its patrol activities in the area where seizures are occurring so as to determine, so far as practicable, the precise locations of United States fishing vessels when subjected to interference by Mexican naval vessels and to record any other observed factual data concerning such incidents. Because of the conflicting United States-Mexican claims to territorial waters, the patrol activities as aforesaid should be confined to the waters lying beyond nine miles from the coast of Mexico.

It is believed that prompt increase in the patrol activity of the Coast Guard may also have a healthy influence on activities of Mexican patrols and exercise a calming influence on the United States shrimp fishing fleet. This may serve to prevent the development of serious incidents which would greatly intensify the problem.

In view of the seriousness of the present situation and the relation between this problem and the continuing problem of territorial waters, it is further requested that you indicate the conditions whereunder the Coast Guard could make additional patrol boats available for these purposes on a continuing basis in this or other areas off Central or South America where such incidents may occur during the next several years. This includes waters off the Gulf [Page 733]Coast of Mexico and waters off Ecuador, Peru, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and possibly other waters.2

Sincerely yours,

For the Acting Secretary of State:
R.R. Rubottom, Jr.3
Acting Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.126/7–2556. Confidential. Drafted by William C. Herrington of the Office of Fisheries and Wildlife.
  2. In a letter to Secretary Dulles dated August 6, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury David W. Kendall wrote in part: “In conformity with your recent verbal request, the Coast Guard temporarily has increased the number of ships maintained on patrol in the area from one to two. The Coast Guard will continue this arrangement, so far as practicable, so long as the unsettled condition in these waters persists.” (Ibid.)

    In a memorandum to Rubottom dated December 4, Kennedy M. Crockett, who became Officer in Charge of Mexican Affairs on September 23, stated his reservations about this letter to Secretary Humphrey. Crockett wrote: “I feel that the description of the situation as set forth in the letter of July 24 is not an accurate reflection and therefore cannot formulate a sound basis for consideration of remedial measures which the Department and the Coast Guard might take.” Crockett noted further: “There has not been any ‘increasing evidence from reliable sources in the United States fishing industry that the Mexican patrols now are seizing boats in the area beyond nine miles off the coast of Mexico.’ There have been increasing claims of this nature made by the fishing industry but no evidence that can be considered at all conclusive.” Crockett recommended to Rubottom that ARA “take the initiative in trying to reach a temporary solution or alleviation of this problem and, eventually, a permanent solution.” Crockett suggested that to reach a solution, the Department should use the Coast Guard patrols to develop factual information about the daily activities of the fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico. Rubottom initialed his approval of this recommendation. (Ibid., 611.126/12–456)

  3. Printed from a copy which bears this typed signature.