363. Letter From Senator Warren G. Magnuson and Senator Henry M. Jackson to the Under Secretary of State (Herter)1

Dear Mr. Secretary: We are writing to you again in connection with the Conference currently being held in Geneva. As you know, the Conference, among other things, is seeking to reach agreement on the extent of our territorial sea. The position of the United States historically has been that the territorial sea extends three miles offshore. It’s reported that other nations are urging a twelve-mile limit.

[Page 689]

This Conference grows out of certain proposals made by the United Nations International Law Commission. Initially, we are sure, this Government had the choice of attending or not attending the Conference—initially, we had the choice of discouraging such a conference. It’s our understanding, however, that the United States Government through the State Department indicated early in the game its willingness to participate and, since that time, has been active in bringing the Conference into being. We mention this because whatever encouragement or stimulation our Government has given to this meeting places a special responsibility upon our officials to insure that we are not putting our neck in a noose.

We have just returned from the Pacific Northwest. While there, we attended a meeting participated in by all segments of the fishing industry. We, and they, are extremely disturbed over unofficial reports reaching us regarding the progress, or lack thereof, being made in Geneva.

Over a year ago, on April 8th to be exact, Senator Magnuson, as Chairman of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee addressed a letter to the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, The Honorable Theodore Francis Green, expressing grave concern over the possible outcome of the proposed Conference. At that time, the Conference was scheduled in Rome rather than in Geneva. In that letter, Senator Magnuson expressed his conviction that the appropriate committees and members of the Congress should confer with State Department officials to insure that Congressional and industry views would be considered by the Department of State in formulating this country’s position regarding the territorial sea.

On April 24th, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee responded to Senator Magnuson’s April 8th letter, indicating that he, too, was much concerned over the position this nation might take at the forthcoming Conference. Senator Green stated further that he and members of his staff would confer personally with members of the State Department on the subject.

During the intervening months, we, together with other members of the Washington State Delegation, have held numerous conferences with Mr. Herrington, Mr. Looney and yourself regarding this matter. In addition, representatives of the industry have made special trips to Washington, D.C., to present the disastrous results which would flow to the fishing industry of the Pacific Northwest from any new agreement on a twelve-mile expanse of territorial sea.

We have been presented recently, through William Macomber, Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations, with the “Résumé of Law of the Sea Conference” through April 1, 1958.2 In that résumé, [Page 690] Mr. Macomber recounts the drive put on by the Soviet bloc for a twelve-mile limit. In addition, he discusses the so-called Canadian compromise which involves a three-mile limit for purposes of sovereignty, “but an additional nine-mile contiguous zone. …3 over which the coastal country could exercise exclusive fishing rights.” He further states that the United States Delegation “has been seeking with every means at its command to persuade other delegations to accept a qualification of the Canadian proposal under which United States fishermen could continue their activities in those areas off foreign coasts where they had historically taken fish.” In another place in his resume, Mr. Macomber alleges, “… the United States Delegation is pressing vigorously for Conference recognition of the principle of abstention so as to protect the salmon and other fisheries off our north-western coasts from depletion.”

If we were to judge the position of our United States Delegation solely from the résumé just mentioned, we would be forced to conclude that our representatives at Geneva are doing everything within their power to protect the fishing industry of this country. Unfortunately, unofficial reports reaching us create the suspicion that the reports given to members of Congress by the Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations do not square with what is actually going on.

A majority, if not all, of the members of Congress interested in this problem have consistently insisted that the United States should adhere to its historical position on territorial waters—namely, a three-mile limit. There is evidence coming out of Geneva, including the resume above cited, which would convince any reasonable man that our delegation has fallen back to a second line, or even a third line of defense. The resume states that our delegation is now pushing for the so-called Canadian compromise, with a provision that fishing grounds within the twelve-mile limit, historically explored and developed by United States fishermen, be protected. Later evidence indicates that the proviso has not been dropped and that our delegation is merely supporting the Canadian compromise with no protection to historical fishing grounds.

If such a position is maintained, and if an agreement along those lines is finally signed, the results will be disastrous, particularly to fisheries in the Pacific Northwest and in the Gulf. Along the Canadian coast, for example, fishermen from the Pacific Northwest would be virtually excluded from the fishing banks which they explored over fifty years ago and have been farming ever since. The bottom fisheries in that area would be reserved solely for Canadians, with the result that the United States fishermen would be put out of business and the [Page 691] United States consumer of bottom fish in the Pacific Northwest would be purchasing the products not from American citizens but from Canadian citizens. We think such a result is indefensible.

Earlier, we quoted from Secretary Macomber’s résumé a statement alleging that the United States Delegation in Geneva is “pressing vigorously” for the abstention principle. The abstention principle, of course, is vital to the preservation of salmon runs in Alaskan, Puget Sound and Columbia River waters. Again, unofficial reports coming to us create the strong suspicion that our delegation is not pressing for adoption of the abstention principle—that the abstention principle has been lost in the diplomatic maze.

If the agreement coming out of Geneva does not include the abstention principle, we and the entire fishing industry would be forced to exert every means at our command to prevent ratification of the agreement when it comes to the Senate.

Heretofore, we have made clear to representatives of the State Department our conviction that any agreement signed at Geneva by this country should be presented to the United States Senate for ratification in the form of a treaty or convention. We have been assured that this is your intent. To date, however, we have nothing in writing on the subject, and we wish to reiterate in strongest terms our belief that a matter of this importance to the security and fisheries of the nation must come to the Senate for action.

May we summarize by saying that we and the entire fishing industry are extremely disturbed at the direction the Geneva Convention is taking. We believe that the representations made herein are in accord with the views of Senators and Members of Congress from all Coastal States. We respectfully urge that you, personally, transmit to Mr. Herrington, who heads our delegation in Geneva, the views we have expressed to the end that he and our other representatives engaged in the actual negotiations will exert every possible means at their command to protect the United States fishing industry, in line with the commitments made to us repeatedly since April 8th of 1957.

Thank you for your cooperation. Warm personal regards.4


Warren G. Magnuson, U.S.S.
Henry M. Jackson, U.S.S.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 399.731/4–1558. Senator Magnuson was Chairman of the Senate Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce.
  2. Not found.
  3. All ellipses in this document are in the source text.
  4. In a second letter later in the day, the Senators stated that they had heard the U.S. Delegation was going to propose the 6-mile limit with 6 additional miles for fishing and concluded that this position could not help the public interest. (Department of State, Central Files, 399.731/4–1558)

    In replies dated April 19, Herter stated that if the U.S. Delegation successfully carried out its instructions, the fishing industry would probably lose some of its privileges, but this would forestall far greater losses that would occur without the conference. (Ibid.)