The crux of the fishing vessel dispute is the disparity in the size of the territorial sea claimed by the three Latin American nations and that claimed by the United States. Chile, Ecuador, and Peru claim a territorial sea of 200 miles breadth, while the United States claims a three mile territorial sea, and an exclusive fishing zone which extends from shore a distance of twelve miles. The dispute is 17 years old. More than 140 United States tuna ships have been seized, primarily by Ecuador and Peru, and innumerable others harassed in waters which the United States considers res communus. Typically, the tuna boats have been seized by patrol craft of the coastal nation, forced to proceed to port, charged with violating license and registration regulations, and forced to pay fines before being released. In some instances, the vessels' fishing gear and catch have been confiscated as well. There have been strafings and shootings in which American tuna fisherman have been injured. Exacerbating the controversy is the fact that naval vessels supplied under our military assistance program frequently have been used in these seizures. Moreover, jet aircraft furnished the coastal nations by the United States government have been used to located the tuna boats. In two seizures, those of the Ronnie S. and the Determined, the participating Ecuadorian crews had just completed a six-month training tour in the United States. Meanwhile, the United States has given Peru and Ecuador over $457,009,000 in foreign assistance. Further, the loss suffered by the tuna industry and the United States Treasury has been estimated at more than one million dollars.
Jane S. Wiegand,
Seizures of United States Fishing Vessels - The Status of the Wet War,
San Diego L. Rev.
Available at: https://digital.sandiego.edu/sdlr/vol6/iss3/6