271. Memorandum by the Special Assistant for Fisheries and Wildlife (Herrington)1


  • U.S. Position Relative to International Fisheries Conservation Principles

1. Our Past Position.

In the past the U.S. has not favored or encouraged the development of world-wide conservation principles or regulations and has not participated in discussions and suggestions in response to inquiries circulated by the International Law Commission. It was our position that no action at the world level was needed since we had been successful in negotiating and implementing satisfactory conservation agreements covering our international fishery problems and we have felt that as new problems developed it would be possible to negotiate agreements suitable for their handling. It was thought that this was the most practical procedure and could be used elsewhere if true conservation problems existed. We have played an important role in negotiating and operating seven international conventions for the conservation of living resources of the sea. These range from the Fur Seal Convention which became effective in 1911 to the North Pacific Fisheries Convention which became effective in 1954. The older Conventions, Fur Seal, Halibut, and Fraser River Sockeye Salmon, have been brilliantly successful in establishing and maintaining the resources. The newer conventions are generally making encouraging progress toward solution of their problems.

The interested segments of the U.S. public, particularly the commercial fishing interests of the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf areas, were particularly in strong support of the policy that we avoid commitment to general policies at the world level in favor of ad hoc action with respect to specific problems.

2. New Developments.

Many of the nations of the world have, or believe they have, serious unresolved international conservation problems. In consideration of this, the International Law Commission, on instructions of the General Assembly of the U.N., has proceeded with the exploration and development of proposals for international law respecting high seas fisheries. The U.S. has taken no part in this development [Page 526] and the results in their present form do not appear either practical or acceptable to the U.S. or, we believe, to a majority of nations.

A number of countries have claimed jurisdiction over wide areas of the high seas which they tried to justify as providing the only way in which fisheries conservation could be assured. The differences between these claimants to extreme jurisdiction and the supporters of the traditional concept of the freedom of the seas have become increasingly great and there has been a strong tendency recently for the more extreme groups to solidify their positions by joint action. A small group of states of Latin America are striving strenuously to establish a regional position on international fishery principles and to implement these claims. There is increasing probability that such unilateral claims implemented by force will be countered by force unless means are developed for resolving the differences at a world level. The differences cut across the free-world countries; the argument between the U.K. and Iceland, affecting NATO; the Japan–Korea fishery jurisdiction question, affecting cooperation in the Far East; and growing differences between the U.S. and certain Latin American countries, disturbing relations in the Western Hemisphere.

3. Current U.S. Position.

Because of these developments the U.S. has shifted from a passive to an active position with respect to developing agreement on a satisfactory set of world-wide conservation principles. This new position has been taken because it now appears to offer the most promising approach to resolving or reducing jurisdictional disputes. If agreement is reached on a satisfactory set of conservation principles, then the question of jurisdiction over oceanic areas can be resolved on its merits without becoming entangled in the conservation problem.

Through an extensive series of meetings and discussions with representatives of the U.S. fishing industry, these groups have come to appreciate the over-all problem involved and have been brought into sufficient agreement with respect to international conservation principles as to permit the U.S. to take the initiative in promoting world agreement in this field. This enlightened position of the U.S. industry has been greatly facilitated by the fact that in our various international fishery conventions we have worked out practical solutions for most of the international problems which the International Law Commission has been studying. It is believed that by generalizing and expanding some of these proved solutions a basis is provided for the development of international principles which are both sound and practical.

[Page 527]

4. Action.

In 1953 the International Law Commission recommended to the United Nations General Assembly’s consideration a set of fisheries articles.2 These were received too late for consideration at the 1953 session of the General Assembly. Since then these fisheries articles have been studied at length by the United States. It is our opinion that the International Law Commission has in these articles done an excellent job in pointing up basic international fisheries problems for which new principles are needed. However, we have some technical disagreement with respect to the wording and to certain of the procedures recommended. It is our opinion that some of these procedures would be impractical in their application and that there is no possibility of developing support for them from the majority of nations. In view of this, the U.S. took the initiative in sponsoring a General Assembly decision to convoke an international technical fisheries conference to study these problems and types of solutions. This Conference, to be convened at Rome April 18, 1955, has two functions; (1) to acquaint nations with the nature and seriousness of the problems and develop agreement on acceptable solutions, and (2) to bring the conference’s findings and recommendations to the attention of the International Law Commission to assist that body in a reconsideration of its fisheries articles. With this background, the International Law Commission would be enabled to make recommendations to the General Assembly which have a far better chance of general acceptance.

5. Implementation.

At its Ninth Session the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution to convene a world fisheries conference at Rome on April 18, 1955, which conference is to report its findings to the International Law Commission. It is expected that the International Law Commission will have for consideration during its Spring 1955 session the report of the fisheries conference. It should have an opportunity to make any changes in its draft fisheries articles as it sees fit and to submit these revised articles to member governments for their study and comment later this year. It is expected that the International Law Commission will in 1956, prepare its final recommendations on fisheries articles and submit these to the Eleventh Session of the General Assembly.

At the regional level, the problems concerned with the regime of the high seas will be considered by the Inter-American Juridical Committee during the summer of 1955. The report of this Committee [Page 528] will be considered by the Inter-American Council of Jurists at its meeting early in 1956. The regime of the high seas and the matter of the continental shelf will be considered by a Specialized Technical Conference to be convened by the Organization of American States, probably in the Spring of 1956.

It will be noted that the first in this series of meetings will be at the world level. This appears to be highly desirable to minimize the possibility of regional blocs reaching positions which the world bodies will be unable to reconcile.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 398.245 RO/4–1355. Official Use Only. Dictated by Herrington before his departure for the Rome conference, with a request that it be sent to Meeker.
  2. See ILC Yearbook, 1953, vol. II, pp. 217–218.
  3. For additional information on the U.S. position on the conservation of fisheries resources, see Department of State Bulletin, April 25, 1955, pp. 696–698.