270. Memorandum From Warren F. Looney of the Office of the Special Assistant for Fisheries and Wildlife to the Director of the Office of International Conferences (Kissick)1


  • International Technical Conference on the Conservation of the Living Resources of the Sea, to be convened at Rome April 18, 1955

During its Ninth Session the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted, on December 14, 1954, a resolution calling for an International Technical Conference on the Living Resources of the Sea, to be convened at Rome on April 18, 1955.

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The United States initiated this resolution after consulting with a number of other governments and winning their support as co-sponsors. Its ultimate aim in so doing is not fully apparent on the face of the resolution and the nature, extent, and importance of the U.S. interests involved must, therefore, be viewed in the light of other current developments. These are:

The pronounced trend, during the last decade, toward the unilateral assimilation by coastal states of adjacent high seas to the national control for the purpose of controlling the exploitation of natural resources in and under those waters;
The forthcoming meeting (Spring, 1955) of the International Law Commission during which it will take up the subject of the regime of territorial waters as well as certain aspects of the regime of the high seas. Included in the latter are high seas fishing rights in relation to conservation, and it is on this subject that the Rome Conference is expected to advise the ILC;
The meeting in the fall of 1955 of the Inter-American Council of Jurists on the subject of territorial waters and related matters. This is another forum in which, by its terms of reference from the Organization of American States, opportunities will be large for subjective recommendations to the OAS prejudicial to U.S. high seas fisheries and territorial waters policies;
A projected 1955 Specialized Inter-American Conference on the submarine shelf and oceanic waters at which attempts will be made by proponents of extended territorial waters and sovereignty to establish a basis in law and practice for existing and future high seas claims by endorsement of such action on a regional basis;
The mandate given the ILC by the UN to complete and submit its recommendations on the whole of the topics “Regime of the High Seas” and the “Regime of Territorial Waters” for consideration by the GA at its Eleventh Session in 1956.2

These are the events and they are tied together by a common denominator: The future course of generally accepted state practice in regard to the breadth of territorial waters and extraterritorial controls of one kind or another over natural resources. The underlying problem involved in the various meetings is the desire of a large number of countries to retain for their own future exploitation the resources of the continental shelf, and superjacent waters, and the efforts of some countries for that purpose to extend their sovereignty not only over the continental shelf but also over areas of the high seas extending as far as 200 miles from their coasts. The U.S. has no argument with claims to the continental shelf. But claims to territorial waters in excess of the three-mile limit conflict with the U.S. position and damage our traditional policy of maintaining the freedom of the seas.

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The work of the Rome Conference, therefore, can have wide implications favorable to the U.S., depending upon the extent to which perhaps the heaviest contributor to high seas claims—fishery conservation, can successfully be extricated from the overall problem and dealt with on its own merits. The fundamental position of the United States with reference to the fisheries problem is that conservation can best be achieved by application of soundly executed scientific programs involving international agreement among states concerned, and does not in any sense require the extension of sovereignty over coastal waters beyond the three-mile limit. Establishment of a sound precedent in this respect at Rome would affect the consideration of this matter in other forums throughout the world.

For your future information, I am attaching a copy of the provisional agenda and related documents for the Rome Conference;3 a copy of a recent circular instruction; and a copy of a draft of instructions to the U.S. Delegation to Rome.4 The latter has not been cleared as yet. This will be attended to as soon as Mr. Herrington returns from abroad in mid-February.

The matter of an appropriately sized and constituted delegation to represent the U.S. at the Rome meeting has been given careful thought. Taking into consideration that (1) the U.S. is responsible for this Conference having been called, that (2) it is expected by the co-sponsors to assume the leading and coordinating role; that (3) the Conference is world-wide in scope; that (4) it brings into issue questions affecting U.S. high seas fishing operations east, west, and south; and that (5) treatment of its subject will have a heavy impact upon the related subjects of territorial waters and continental shelf; it is recommended that the delegation should be comprised of a minimum of nine persons (six delegates, three advisers), as follows:

[Here follow a list of the names and qualifications of the six proposed delegates (three from the Department of State, three from the Department of the Interior, and three advisers from the American fishing industry), and a request to take the necessary steps to secure approval of the delegation.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 398.245 R0/2–855. Confidential.
  2. For text of General Assembly Resolution 899 (IX), adopted on December 14, 1954, see GA (IX), Resolutions, p. 50.
  3. The provisional agenda, annotations to the agenda, and a list of background papers (A / CONF. 10/1, 2, and 3) were transmitted to the Department by USUN in despatch 610, February 8. (Department of State, Central Files, 398.245 RO/2–855)
  4. Regarding the instructions sent to Herrington, see footnote 2, Document 272.