272. Current Economic Developments1

Issue No. 468

[Here follow pages 1—18 of the report.]

UN Conference on Fisheries

The UN International Technical Conference on the Conservation of the Living Resources of the Sea was held at FAO headquarters in Rome April 18 to May 10, 1955.2 Its purpose was to make scientific and technical recommendations to the International Law Commission on problems related to the development and conservation of fisheries, so as to better enable that Commission to discharge its responsibility of making recommendations on the regime of the high seas to the UN General Assembly. It was the consensus of the conference that it was not competent to express any opinion as to the appropriate extent of the territorial sea, the extent of the jurisdiction of the coastal state over fisheries, or the legal status of the super-adjacent waters of the continental shelf. The over-all results were considered satisfactory or better by most of the delegations present, including our own.

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Forty-five countries participated as voting members, and six sent observer delegations. In addition, twelve international organizations had observers present.

Conference Conclusions The final report and conclusions were accepted by all except a few delegations, which filed reservations. Among the latter were Chile, Peru and Ecuador. In the report’s conclusions the conference notes with satisfaction conservation measures already carried out in certain regions and for certain species at the national and international level. International cooperation in research and regulation for the conservation of high seas fisheries is deemed essential, and the conference considers that wherever necessary further conventions for those purposes should be negotiated. The conclusions show agreement on a definition of the objectives of conservation, of which the principal one is to obtain the maximum yield which will be sustainable. The conference agreed that when formulating conservation programs, account should be taken of the special interests of the coastal state in maintaining the productivity of the resources of the high seas near to its coast. It endorsed the present system of international fisheries regulation, which is based on the geographical and biological distribution of the marine populations covered by individual conventions signed by the nations concerned.

Seven guiding principles are set forth for formulating fisheries conventions: 1) A convention should cover one or more stocks of marine animals capable of separate identification and regulation, or else a defined area, taking into account scientific and technical factors. 2) All states fishing the resource and the adjacent coastal states should have the opportunity of joining the convention and of participating in the consideration and discussion of regulatory measures. 3) Conservation regulations introduced under a convention should be based on scientific research and investigation. 4) All signatory states should as far as practicable participate directly, or through the support of a joint research staff, in the scientific research and investigation carried out for the purposes of the convention. 5) All conventions should have clear rules regarding the rights and duties of member nations and clear operating procedures. 6) Conventions should clearly specify the kind or types of measures which may be used in order to achieve their objectives. 7) Conventions should provide for effective enforcement. Nothing in these guiding principles is intended to prevent states from making agreements on such other fishery matters as they may wish or to limit the authority or responsibilities of a state to regulate its fisheries on the high seas when its nationals alone are involved.

The conference concludes that conventions and the regulatory measures taken thereunder should be adopted by agreement among [Page 530] all interested countries. It recognizes, however, that disagreements may arise over scientific and technical matters relating to fishery conservation and recommends that nations agree to refer such differences to the findings of suitably qualified and impartial experts chosen by the parties concerned on an ad hoc basis.

The conference considered the problem created when the intensive exploitation of offshore waters adjoining heavily fished inshore waters affects the abundance of fish in the inshore waters pending the establishment of an adequate conservation regime for the area. It was agreed that this problem required further study.

During the discussions the Latin American bloc made a strong attempt to obtain a conference decision that the coastal state should regulate fisheries off its coast when the states concerned are unable to reach agreement on a conservation program. The conference was more or less evenly divided on the question of whether consideration of the rights of coastal states was outside its competence. By a vote of 21 to 20 the conference decided it did not have the necessary authority.

The results of the conference substantially reinforce the US position on fisheries conservation and, it is hoped, will enable the International Law Commission to make recommendations to the UN General Assembly which will be satisfactory to the US. The conference conclusions are indirectly favorable to the US position on the juridical question of territorial waters, since they disclose that proprietary claims over the high seas are not necessary to ensure the conservation of resources. Conservation objectives are usually cited as the basis for claims to sovereignty over the high seas.

  1. Source: Department of State, Current Economic Developments: Lot 70 D 467. Secret.
  2. Herrington was appointed Chairman of the U.S. Delegation to the Conference, which included two other delegates (Oscar E. Sette and Arnie J. Suomela, both from the Department of the Interior) and six advisers. The list of delegates and advisers is ibid., Central Files, 398.245 RO/4–1155. The Department’s instructions to Herrington, dated April 12, with detailed annexes, are ibid., 398.245 RO/4–1255.