69. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Ocean Affairs (Busby) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs (Irving)1 2


  • Antarctica: Question of Living Resource Exploitation

Attached is an Issues Paper concerning exploitation of the living resources of the Southern Ocean, prepared by OES/OFA for inclusion in the package being put together for a possible APG meeting on Antarctic resource questions. Since the paper was prepared for inter-agency circulation and is purposely designed to raise questions rather than answer them, I would like to pass on for your consideration some thoughts as to how we might deal with the issues.

We are initially faced with a decision as to what our attitude should be toward efforts by a number of Antarctic treaty partners to initiate negotiations on a regime for Antarctic living resources. As indicated in the issues paper, we have important interests in seeing that the resources of the Southern Ocean are managed and utilized in a rational and environmentally sound fashion.

The living resource ambitions of the states involved—both those claiming territory in Antarctica, and the potential distant-water fishing states—are sufficiently at odds so as to make effective management of such resources extremely difficult in the absence of agreement. So much so that I believe in practical terms the necessary conservation and management program will have to be effected through some form of international arrangement.

There are a number of arrangements possible. At one end of the spectrum, the twelve treaty parties could seek “agreed measures” to deal with resource questions. This is a mechanism provided within the consultative system to promote cooperative efforts among the twelve.

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At the other end, there could be a full-scale renegotiation of the Antarctic treaty itself, since it does not explicitly deal with resources. Based on a preliminary analysis, I believe the Antarctic treaty parties should seize the initiative and negotiate a living resources convention, but one which would itself be distinct from the treaty. The negotiation of such a convention would permit a regime consistent with the treaty but with a broader base of participation than just the twelve, involving other interested (non-party) states. An important appeal of this approach is that it would envisage as little disturbance as possible to the existing operation of the Antarctic treaty system, which has well served U.S. security, scientific, and environmental interests, yet it would allow participation by non-parties who have an interest.

Starting from this premise, one must next answer the question as to the timing of such a negotiation.

In conservation terms, the answer is “the sooner the better.” However, it should be recognized that a negotiation, once initiated, may stimulate an international interest in exploitation of the potential resources beyond that which would otherwise be the case. This may make it a more difficult negotiation in some ways, i.e., more highly politicized, but I think that there are three positive reasons for moving quickly:

  • —The ecosystem of the Southern Ocean, characterized by a very short food chain, is representative of an extremely delicate and balanced environment. Over-exploitation of a particular species in this system could have possibly irreversible impact not only on that species itself but on the system as a whole. In such circumstances, it is extremely important to regulate and monitor exploitation from its earliest stages;
  • —Similarly, there is a basic need to develop and broaden the data base upon which to build a conservation and management regime. Preliminary exploitation of the living resources of the area is already underway. Those states conducting most research into the living resources of the Southern Ocean are also exploiters, and have little incentive to share such data with potential competitors. Thus, some form of agreement among all interested states, whether exploiters or not, is necessary to provide the needed data.
  • —Development of a regime for Antarctic living resources can provide a model for resolving general Antarctic resources issues, including the question of a regime for mineral resources, there are definite precedents for multilateral fisheries commissions, and the concerned states are familiar with them. It might prove easier to resolve difficult legal and political issues in the context of a fisheries negotiation rather than one dealing with oil.

It is my opinion, therefore, that we should be prepared to participate in the early negotiation of a regime for living resources. While we do not have a detailed negotiating position to set forth at this time, a negotiation on living resources offers an opportunity for the U.S. not only to satisfy its specific objectives, but also to play a major role in bringing about a negotiated solution. Since the issue for the immediate future does not involve the economic interests of U.S. fishermen, we are in a position to be the “honest broker” between those states investigating the feasibility of commercial exploitation (for the most part, non-claimants) and the claimant states (particularly the Latins, Australia and New Zealand) who are motivated by varying combinations of environmental concern and desire to achieve recognition of 200-mile fisheries zones around their claimed areas.

In this position, I believe we should initially adopt an attitude of guarded interest in commencing negotiations, allowing ourselves to be persuaded by those pressing for early action (UK, Australia and New Zealand). I do not believe we should put ourselves in the position, as we have in so many other resource negotiations, of appearing to be the participant most interested in rapid settlement.

There is no easy formula as to how to deal with the Soviets and Japanese, although there are issues on which we can ally ourselves with them and where we can perhaps exert leverage. It will also be difficult to devise a means for resolving the difficult question of conflicting claims with its juridical and legal ramifications. I believe, however, that we must begin to develop our position, including a projected detailed negotiating position, with some degree of urgency both within the Department and on an inter-agency basis.

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Issues Paper

The Question of Living Resource Exploitation


The living resource potential of the Southern Ocean is attracting mounting international attention. The prospect of large-scale commercial fishing in Antarctic and sub-Antarctic waters raises a number of complex issues for the parties to the Antarctic treaty, for those states themselves contemplating exploitation activities, and for the international community at large. These issues involve: first, whether there is need for international arrangements to manage and conserve the resources; if so, what kind of arrangements; and second, how to deal with the difficult political problems inherent in addressing the issues. The United States, as a major Antarctic power and a major actor in efforts at international resource management, has important interests at stake in how the Southern Ocean living resource questions are resolved. Events are moving rapidly and the United States will need to define its position on a possible regime for Antarctic living resources in the near future.


The Southern Ocean, comprising the productive waters surrounding the Antarctic continent, supports a marine ecosystem of extremely large biomass. The area has been the scene of past exploitation activity, directed almost exclusively toward marine mammals, particularly Antarctic whale stocks. Interest in future potential, however, centers upon fish stocks: to some extent upon groundfish and squid, but primarily upon, krill small protein-rich crustaceans (closely related to shrimp) which are found in enormous quantities in the Southern Ocean.

In a general sense, the catalyst for the interest in krill is easy to identify: growing scarcity of sources of protein on a world-wide basis in the face of rapid world population increase. Though the economic viability of large-scale harvesting of fish stocks in the Southern Ocean remains to be proven, there have been rough estimates that the potential yield of krill alone could result in [Page 5] doubling the annual world fish catch. Regardless of die ultimate accuracy of these estimates they are widely accepted and politically potent.

On a more specific level, the potential of the Southern Ocean has drawn the interest of distant-water fishing states, whose fleets are faced with depletion of stocks on traditional fishing grounds and realignment of fishing patterns with the establishment of 200-mile fishery zones. The USSR and Japan have for a number of years conducted research and experimental fishing for krill and other species in the Southern Ocean. They have recently been joined by the FRG, Poland and others are waiting in the wings.

On an international level, FAO has before it a proposal to undertake a comprehensive survey of the living resources of the Southern Ocean. The study would be funded by UNDP, following a pattern established for a number of food-related development projects. A draft feasibility study for such a project has been prepared by an FAO consultant and envisages an ambitious program looking toward eventual management of Southern Ocean resources primarily for the benefit of developing countries. The Antarctic living resource issue, like the question of mineral resources, could well become enmeshed in the North-South rivalry over resource questions. For instance, there have been preliminary expressions of interest in Antarctic resources both in the UNGA and at the Colombo Non-Aligned Conference.

The possibility of extensive living resource exploitation in the Southern Ocean is having a major impact within the Antarctic treaty system. Until recently, the primary emphasis of Consultative Party consideration of living resources centered upon preservation of sensitive elements of the Antarctic ecosystem, as for instance in the designation of specially protected areas. An exception to this orientation were the interim guidelines on Antarctic pelagic sealing which formed the basis for the 1972 Convention on Antarctic Pelagic Sealing (not yet in force), which would regulate exploitation of certain species of Antarctic seals. (The only other form of living resource regulation in the Southern Ocean originates outside the Antarctic treaty system in the regulation of Antarctic whaling under the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

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The Eighth Meeting of the Antarctic Consultative Parties in Oslo, however, called for a study by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) of the marine potential in the Southern Ocean, which was the aim of a recent symposium which was held in Woods Hole. Among the recommendations of the Woods Hole meeting was a call for steps to conserve and manage krill and other potential targets of exploitation on the political level.

During the Paris Special Preparatory Meeting of Antarctic Consultative Parties on the mineral resources issue, last June, the Australian and UK delegations organized an informal consultation among a number of the participants on the question of devising a regime to deal with expected living resource exploitation. The consultation, which did not include the Soviet Union and Japan, revealed a wide feeling that resolution of the Antarctic living resource question was a more immediate challenge to the treaty parties than a resolution of non-living resource issues. This view derived from several motivations:

Sincere concern with rational management of a delicate ecosystem;
Desire for the treaty parties to preempt the field before FAO or other international bodies take the initiative; and
Concern among states claiming territory in Antarctica over securing 200-mile zones contiguous to their territories in the face of projected distant-water state exploitation in the Southern Ocean.

The UK delegation tabled an outline of a possible convention on Antarctic Living Resources, modeled upon the Pelagic Sealing Convention. Both Australia and the UK indicated that they will seek a decision by the Ninth Consultative Meeting to be held next September in London to initiate formal negotiation for a living regime and discussions of the nature of such a regime at the regular preparatory meeting tentatively scheduled for early spring also in London.

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The US faced with the need to define its policy on the desirability of an international regime to manage the living resources of the Southern Ocean. There is a good case to be made that such a regime is essential to the rational utilization of resources from the Southern Ocean, as well as to maintenance of the integrity of a marine ecosystem of world-wide importance. A decision to adopt such an attitude flows logically from our international resource and environmental interests and from our continued commitment to the objectives and functioning of the Antarctic treaty. This attitude, however, does not provide guidance as to how to deal with the issue in a concrete sense. More specifically:

We must adopt a stance on the timing of a negotiation on Antarctic living resources.
We should decide upon a negotiating approach in terms of how active a role to play in any such negotiations.
We need to define a substantive position on the type of management regime we think necessary and negotiable for Antarctic living resources. Further, we need to define our policy on who should negotiate such a regime and who should participate therein (for instance, the 12 Consultative parties? The 12 plus a limited number of interested states? The international community as a whole?)
We need to devise means of dealing with the very difficult political and legal questions arising from the position of claimant and non-claimant states.
We need to develop a strategy for dealing with the USSR and Japan who, among the treaty parties, will resist any resource arrangements which they feel might limit their freedom of fishing in the Southern Ocean.
Also, we need to devise a strategy for dealing with possible injection of Antarctic living resource issues in polemical form into multilateral for a such as the UNGA.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, OES/OA Files: Lot 90 D 234, Antarctic Marine Living Resources, 1974, 1975, 1976. Confidential. Drafted on September 23 by Busby and Scully (OES/OFA). Copies were sent to OES/APT, OES/ENP, and OES/OFA.
  2. The memorandum and attached Issues Paper discussed U.S. policy concerning exploitation of Antarctic living resources.