THE Kamchatka fisheries question is the hardy perennial of discord between Soviet Russia and Japan. From small beginnings it has now assumed the proportions of a major political issue. Its ramifications can best be presented by noting the stages of its growth.
Pre-revolution Period. The Tsarist Government exhibited an extraordinary disinterest in the riches of Russia's Far Eastern waters and permitted Japan to obtain a long headstart in their exploitation. The first privileges which Japan received from Russia were contained in that same Treaty of 1875 whereby Russia acquired Sakhalin and Japan the Kurile Islands. The treaty gave Japanese fishing boats and traders rights equal to those granted by Russia under the most-favored-nation clause. Subsequently, Japanese fish buyers conducted a brisk trade with the natives at the mouth of the Amur. But the special fishing rights exercised by Japan spring from Article 11 of the Treaty of Portsmouth as implemented by the Fishery Convention of 1907, which granted Japanese subjects the "right to capture, gather and manufacture marine products along the Russian coasts facing the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea." According to this convention, concessions (or fishing lots for lease) were to be distributed by auction with no discrimination as between Japanese and Russian nationals.
"Illegal" Period: 1917-1924. Difficulties over fishing rights did not develop between the two nations until the Russian Revolution severed diplomatic relations, thus preventing renewal of the 1907 convention when it expired in 1919. During the period of foreign intervention in Siberia, the Russians lost control of the fishing grounds. In 1921, Japan, declaring the 1907 convention void, proclaimed "free fishing," and protected her fishermen with warships. During this period Japan progressively took over control of the entire fisheries, built canneries on the Kamchatka shore, and doubled the output of her fish products. In an effort to legalize her enhanced position, Japan first attempted to negotiate with the Merkulov "White" government at Vladivostok, later with the Far Eastern Republic at the Dairen Conference (1921-1922), and again with the
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