« PreviousContinue »
but my opinion is that a larger revenue can be obtained from them by actual management than by a lease.
"In further reply to the resolution, I have to say that the skins taken in 1868 were removed by Messrs. Kohl, Hutchinson & Co., the Solicitor of the Treasury being of opinion that the Government had no legal authority to detain them. Those taken in 1869 are upon the islands, but no decision has been made touching the rights of the Government.
"In concluding this report, I desire to call the attention of Congress to the fact that it is necessary to legislate immediately so far as to provide for the business of the present year. The natives will commence the capture of seals about the 1st of
"If the islands are to be leased for the present year it should be done immediately, that the lessee may make provision for the business of the year. If the business of the present year is to be conducted by the Government, as I think it should be, whatever our future policy, legislation is necessary; and I suggest that the Secretary of the Treasury be authorized to appoint agents in Alaska, who shall be empowered to superintend the capture of the seals and the curing of the skins; and that an appropriation shall be made of $100,000, out of which the natives shall be paid for the labor performed by them and the other expenses incident to the business met.
"The Secretary of the Treasury should also be authorized to sell the skins at public auction or upon sealed proposals at San Francisco or New York, as he may deem most for the interest of the Government.
"It should be observed in this connection that the Government derived no benefit whatever from the seal fishery of the year 1868, and that the skins taken in 1869 are, nominally at least, the property of two companies, while the Government, during the last year, has furnished protection to the natives and the fishery, and has no assurance at present that it will derive any benefit whatever therefrom.
"If legislation is long delayed the business of the year 1870 will be but a repetition of that of 1869."
While the Canadian contention is supported, as has been seen, by many extracts from the reports of officials of the United States Government, it is apparent that the desire of the lessees, and indirectly that of the officials, has been to create a monopoly in the fur-seal industry, since in this way the market for the skins is largely enhauced and the value of the islands greatly increased.
This is no doubt one reason for the divergent opinions entertained as to the best regulations for the preservation of seal life between those who control the islands and those who are compelled to hunt the seals in the ocean.
In support of the above assertion the following authorities are in point:
Mr. Bryant, in 1869 (Senate Ex. Doc. No. 32, 41st Cong., 2d sess.), stated that the large number taken in 1867 and in 1868 decreased the London valuation to $3 and $4 a skin.
Mr. Moore, in a report to the Secretary of the Treasury (H. R. Ex. Doc. No. 83, p. 196, 44th Cong., 1st sess.), says, when alluding to the advisability of killing more seals than prescribed by the act of July 1, 1870:
"It seems that the 100,000 fur-seals from our own islands, together with the 30,000 obtained by them from Asiatic islands, besides the scattering fur-seals killed in the south seas, are all the market of the world can conveniently take. In fact, it is pretty evident that the very restriction of the numbers killed is about the most valuable part of the franchise of the Alaska Commercial Company, and it is only another proof of the absurdity of the frequent charges made against them that they surreptitiously take from our islands 20,000 to 30,000 more seals than they are entitled to take.
"There does not exist any doubt, nor indeed is it denied by the Alaska Commercial Company, that the lease of the islands of St. Paul and St. George is highly lucrative. The great success of this franchise is, however, owing, as far as I could ascertain, to three principal causes: First, the Alaska Commercial Company, owing to the fact that they have the sole control of the three Asiatic islands on which furseals are found, as well as on our own islands, as St. Paul and St. George, virtually manage the sale of 80 per cent. of all the fur-seals killed annually in the world; secondly, the arbitrary and somewhat eccentric law of fashion has raised the price of fur-seals in the markets of the world during the last four years fully 100 per cent. in value; thirdly, time and experience have given this controlling company most valuable advantages. For instance, in the island of St. Paul, where a reputed number of from 3,000,000 to 3,500,000 of seals congregate, the comparatively small quantity only of formerly 75,000 and now 90,000 are killed. The company employs experts in selecting easily the kind that are the most valuable in the market, and have no difficulty in getting 90,000 out of a flock of 3,000,000 to 3,500,000, which are the select of the select; and it is owing to this cause, and to the care taken in avoiding cuts in the skins, as also in properly preparing them for the market, that the high prices are
obtained. Indeed, the fact is that a fur-seal selling now in London for £2 108. or £3 is, owing to its superior quality and excellent condition, cheaper than the furseals which five years ago fetched 30 shillings sterling. The former mode of the indiscriminate killing of fur-seals was as detrimental to the value of the skins as it was to the existence of the breed. With such a valuable franchise, secured by a contract that has still fifteen years to run, but which could, without notice, be terminated by the Secretary of the Treasury for cause, it would indeed be a suicidal policy on the part of the company to infringe on the stipulations of the contract."
All this is explained in the evidence before the Congressional committee, pages 77, 101, 105, and 121, where the company is shown not to have taken the full quota in two years.
"Not because we could not get enough seals, but because the market did not demand them. There were plenty of seals." (Evidence before Congressional committee, p. 121.)
Mr. McIntyre, once a special agent, has already been quoted, and was afterwards in the service of the company, reported, in 1869, to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Blaine (H. R. Ex. Doc. No. 36, 41st Cong., 2d sess.), that
"The number of skins that may be secured, however, should not be taken as the criterion on which to fix the limit of the yearly catch, but rather the demand of the market, keeping, of course, always within the annual production. It appears that under the Russian management a much larger number was sometimes killed than could be advantageously disposed of. Thus, in 1803, after the slaughter had been conducted for some years without regard to the market, an accumulation of 800,000 skins was found in the storehouses on the islands, 700,000 of which were thrown into the sea as worthless. At several times since that date the market has been glutted, and sales almost or quite suspended. A few months previously to the transfer of Alaska to the United States seal-skins were worth in London only $1.50 to $3 each, and several thousand skins owned by the Russian-American Company were sold to parties in San Francisco, at the time of the transfer, at 50 cents to $1.25, a sum insufficient to pay the present cost of securing and transporting them to that city. Soon afterwards, however, fur-seal garments became fashionable in Europe, and in the expectation that the usual supply would be cut off by reason of the transfer of Alaska, prices advanced to $4 to $7 per skin; contrary to the expectation of dealers more than 200,000 skins were taken by the various parties engaged in the business on the islands in 1868, and the London price has declined to $3 to $4 per skin; and I am assured that if the raw skins now held by dealers in London were thrown upon the market, a sufficient sum to pay the cost of transportation from the islands could hardly be realized. The number of raw skins now upon the market is not less than 350,000, and it is predicted that several years must elapse hefore the demand will again raise the price above the present rate, if, indeed, the large surplus of skins does not carry it much lower before reaction begins."
Many of the dangers to seal life have been mentioned, and it has been shown that the herd still thrives; but the wonderful productiveness of the seal is further shown by an allusion to a danger greater than all the assaults of man in the deep sea-a danger ever existing, which naturally tends to keep the seals inshore, or, when outside, to scatter.
Reference is made to the killer-whales and sharks. (H. R. Ex. Doc. 83, 44th Cong., 1st sess., p. 177, and pp. 80, 87 of appendix to the same document; also page 359 of evidence before Congressional committee, 1888.)
"That these animals are preyed upon extensively by killer-whales (Orca gladiator) in especial, and by sharks, and probably other submarine foes now unknown, is at once evident; for were they not held in check by some such cause they would, as they exist to-day on St. Paul, quickly multiply, by arithmetical progression, to so great an extent that the island, nay, Behring Sea itself, could not contain them. The present annual killing of 100,000 out of a yearly total of over a million males does not in any appreciable degree diminish the seal life, or interfere in the slightest with its regular, sure perpetuation on the breeding grounds every year. We may, therefore, properly look upon this aggregate of four and five millions of fur-seals as we see them every season on these Pribylov Islands as the maximum limit of increase assigned to them by natural law. The great equilibrium which nature holds in life upon this earth must be sustained at St. Paul as well as elsewhere. (Elliott's report, pp. 62, 64.)
"When before the Committee of Ways and Means on the 17th of March, 1876, on the investigation before alluded to, Mr. Elliott made a similar statement, giving in somewhat greater detail the reasons for his conclusions. His evidence will be found annexed to the report of the committee." (Report No. 623, H. R., 44th Cong., 1st sess.)
Respecting the practice of sealing as known in Canada, it may be said: Canadian sealers start out upon their sealing voyages some time in the beginning of the year. The vessels go down to a point off San Francisco, and from thence work north. The
seals taken by them off the coast are of both sexes, many in pup, some young bulls; very few old bulls run in the Pacific Ocean.
The catch of each vessel will average between 500 and 700 seals a year between 1st of January and the end of May.
When an untrained crew is taken, many shots may be fired without hitting the seals at all, since the novice expects he can hit when at considerable distance, the seals in such cases escaping entirely; but with Indian hunters and expert whites a seal is nearly always captured when hit. An expert never shoots until after he has arrived at close quarters, and generally when the seal is asleep.
In Behring Sea the catch is made up largely of young bachelors.
Sealing captains contend that no male becomes fit for the rookeries until six years of age. This contention is supported by the authorities to whom reference has already been made.
It is further contended that should a temporary diminution of seal life become apparent upon the islands of the Pribylov group, it would not follow that the herds were decreasing. Professor Elliott, in his report of 1874 upon Alaska, so frequently referred to in this paper, argues on pages 265 and 266 that in such a case a corresponding augmentation may occur in Copper or Behring Island, since "these animals are not particularly attached to the respective places of their birth."
"Thus it appears to me necessary that definite knowledge concerning the Commander Islands and the Kuriles should be possessed; without it I should not hesitate to say that any report made by an agent of the Department as to a visible diminution of the seal life on the Pribylovs due, in his opinion, to the effect of killing as it is conducted was without good foundation; that this diminution would have been noticed just the same in all likelihood had there been no taking of seals at all on the islands, and that the missing seals are more than probably on the Russian grounds."
Note on the question of the protection of the fur-seal in the North Pacific.
(By Mr. George Dawson, D. S., F. G. S., F. R. S. C., F. R. M. S., Assistant Director of the Geological Survey of Canada.)
The mode of protection which is apparently advocated by the United States Government in the case of the fur-seal, viz, that of leasing the privilege of killing the animal on the breeding grounds and prohibiting its capture elsewhere, is a new departure in the matter of such protection. If, indeed, the whole sweep of the Pacific Ocean north of the equator was dominated and effectively controlled by the United States, something might be said in favor of some such mode of protection from a commercial point of view; but in the actual circumstances the results would be so entirely in favor of the United States, and so completely opposed to the interests and natural rights of citizens of all other countries, that it is preposterous to suppose that such a mode of protection of these animals can be maintained.
Such an assumption can be based in this case on one or other only of two grounds: Stated briefly, the position of the United States in the matter appears to be based on the idea of allowing, for a money consideration, the slaughter of the maximum possible number of seals compatible with the continued existence of the animals on the Pribylov Islands, while, in order that this number shall not be reduced, no seal ing is to be permitted elsewhere.
(1) That Behring Sea is a mare clausum.
(2) That each and every fur-seal is the property of the United States.
Both claims have been made in one form or other, but neither has, so far as I know, been officially formulated.
The first is simply disproved by the geographical features of Behring Sea, by the fact that this sea and Behring Strait contribute the open highway to the Arctic and to part of the northern shore of Canada, by the previous action of the United States Government when this sea was nearly surrounded by Russian territory, and by the fact that from 1842 to the date of the purchase of Alaska fleets of United States and other whalers were annually engaged in Behring Sea. It is scarcely possible that any serious attempt will be made to support this contentión. (Bancroft's History, vol. 33, Alaska, p. 583 et seq.)
The second ground of claim is candidly advanced by H. W. Elliott, who writes: "The fur-seals of Alaska, collectively and individually, are the property of the General Government. Every fur-seal playing in the waters of Behring Sea around about the Pribylov Islands, no matter if found so doing 100 miles away from
those rookeries, belong there, has been begotten and born thereon, and is the animal that the explicit shield of the law protects. No legal sophism or quibble can cloud the whole truth of my statement. The matter is, however, now thoroughly appreciated and understood at the Treasury Department, and has been during the past four years, as the seal pirates have discovered to their chagrin and discomfiture.” (U. S. 10th Census, vol. 8, Fur-Seal Islands, p. 157.)
Waiving for the moment the general objection which may be raised to the enforcement of such a principle on the high seas-an enforcement which the United States, in the interest of the Alaska Fur Company, appear to have undertaken the facts upon which the assumption are based may be questioned. Mr. Elliott, in fact, himself writes, on the same page (referring to the presence of a large sealing fleet in Behring Sea), that it could not fail"in a few short years in so harassing and irritating the breeding seals as to cause their withdrawal from the Alaska rookeries, and probable retreat to those of Russia-a source of undoubted Muscovite delight and emolument and of corresponding loss and shame to us."
This remark implies that the seals may resort to either the Pribylov or the Russian islands, according to circumstances; and who is to judge, in the case of a particular animal, in which of these places it has been born? The old theory that the seals returned each year to the same spot has been amply disproved. Elliott himself admits this, and it is confirmed (op. cit., p. 31) by Capt. Charles Bryant, who resided eight years in the Pribylov Island as Government agent, and who, having marked 100 seals in 1870, on St. Paul Island, recognized, the next year, 4 of them in different rookeries on that island and 2 on St. George Island. (Monograph on North American Pinnipedes, Allen, 1880, p. 401.)
It is, moreover, by no means certain that the fur-seals breed exclusively on the Russian and United States seal islands of Behring Sea, though these islands are no doubt their principal and important breeding places. They were formerly, according to Captain Shannon, found in considerable numbers on the coast of California and Captain Bryant was credibly informed ("Marine Mammals of Coast of Northwest North America," pp. 152, 154, quoted by Allen, op. cit., p. 332) of the existence in recent years of small breeding colonies of these animals on the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia. Mr. Allen further quotes from the observations of Mr. James G. Swan, field assistant of the United States Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries.
"Mr. Swan" (I quote from Mr. Elliott) "has passed nearly an average life-time on the Northwest coast, and has rendered to natural science and to ethnology efficient and valuable service."
His statements may therefore be received with respect. He writes:
"The fact that they (the fur-seals) do bear pups in the open ocean, off Fuca Strait, is well established by the evidence of every one of the sealing captains, the Indians, and my own personal observations. Dr. Power says the facts do not admit of dispute. It seems as preposterous to my mind to suppose that all the fur-seals of the North Pacific go to the Pribylov Islands as to suppose that all the salmon go to the Columbia or Fraser River or to the Yukon."
To this Prof. D. S. Jordon, the well-known naturalist, adds:
"I may remark that I saw a live fur-seal pup at Cape Flattery, taken from an old seal just killed, showing that the time of bringing them forth was just at hand." On these statements Mr. Allen himself remarks:
"These observations, aside from the judicious suggestions made by Mr. Swan, are of special interest as confirming those made some years ago by Captain Bryant, and already briefly recorded in this work. They seem to show that at least a certain number of fur-seals repair to secluded places, suited to their needs, as far south as the latitude of Cape Flattery, to bring forth their young." (Allen, op. cit., pp. 411, 772, 773.)
Mr. Elliott, of course, stoutly denies the authenticity of all these observations, it being necessary to do so in order to maintain his contention as to the ownership of the United States Government, or the Alaska Fur Company, as the case may be, in the seals.
It has further been often stated that the killing of fur-seals in the open sea off the North Pacific coast is a comparatively new departure, while it is, as a matter of fact, morally certain that the Indians of the whole length of that coast have pursued and killed these animals from time immemorial. As the value of the skins has, however, only of late years become fully known and appreciated, it is naturally difficult to obtain much trustworthy evidence of this without considerable research. Some facts can, however, be adduced. Thus, Captain Shannon described the mode of hunting scals in canoes employed by the Indians of Vancouver Island, and refers to the capture of seals by the Indians off the Straits of Fuca, where, he adds, they appear
"Some years as early as the 1st of March, and more or less remain till July or August, but they are most plentiful in April and May. During these two months the Indians devote nearly all their time to sealing when the weather will permit.”
In 1843 to 1864 only a few dozen skins are known to have been taken annually, but in 1869 fully 5,000 were obtained. Mr. Allen, writing in 1880, states that
"During the winter months considerable numbers of seal-skins are taken by the natives of British Columbia, some years as many as 2,000." (Allen, op. cit., pp. 332, 371, 411.)
The protection of the fur-seals from extermination has from time to time been speciously advanced as a sufficient reason for extraordinary departures from the respect usually paid to private property and to international rights; but any protection based on the lease of the breeding grounds of these animals as places of slaughter, and an attempt to preserve the seals when at large and spread over the ocean, as they are during the greater part of each year, is unfair in its operation, ansound in principle, and impracticable in enforcement.
Referring to the interests of the Indians of the Northwest coast, it is true that a certain number of Aleuts now on the Pribylov Islands (398 in all, according to Elliott) are dependent on the sealing business for subsistence, but these islands were uninhab ited when discovered by the Russians, who brought these people here for their own convenience. Further south along the coast the natives of the Aleutian Islands, of the southeast coast of Alaska, and of the entire coast of British Columbia have been, and still are, accustomed annually to kill considerable numbers of seals. This it would be unjust to interfere with, even were it possible to carry out any regulations with that effect. The further development of oceanic sealing affords employment to, and serves as a mode of advancement and civilization for, these Indians, and is one of the natural industries of the coast. No allusion need be made to the prescriptive rights of the white sealers, which are well known.
The unsoundness of this principle of conservation is shown by what has occurred in the southern hemisphere in respect to the fur-seals of that region. About the beginning of the century very productive sealing grounds existed in the Falkland Islands, Korguelen Islands, Georgian Islands, the west coast of Patagonia, and many other places similarly situated, all of which were in the course of a few years almost absofutely stripped of seals, and in many of which the animal is now practically extinct. This destruction of the southern für-sealing trade was not caused by promiscuous sealing at sea, but entirely by hunting on and around the shores, and, had these islands been protected as breeding places, the fur-seals would in all probability be nearly as abundant in the south to-day as they were at the date at which the trade commenced.
The impracticability of preventing the killing of seals on the open sea and of efficiently patrolling the North Pacific for this purpose is sufficiently obvious. The seals, moreover, when at sea (in marked contrast with their boldness and docility in their breeding places), are extremely wary, and the number which can be obtained by legitimate hunting at sea must always be small as compared with the total. Elliott, in fact, states that the seal, when at sea, "is the shyest and wariest your ingenuity can define." (Op. cit., p. 65.)
The position is such that at the present time the perpetuation or the extermination of the fur-seal in the North Pacific as a commercial factor practically depends entirely on the regulations and restrictions which may be applied by the United States to the Pribylov Islands, and now that this is understood a regard for the general interest of its own citizens, as well as for those of other countries, demands that the extermination or serious depletion of the seals on their breeding islands should be prevented. It is probably not necessary for this purpose that the killing of seals on these islands should be entirely prohibited. Both Elliott and Bryant show good reason for believing that a large number of seals may be killed annually without reducing the average aggregate number which can find suitable breeding grounds on these islands, and after the very great reduction in numbers which occurred, owing to an inclement season about 1836 (Elliott), or 1842 (Bryant), the seals increased very rapidly again, and in a few years being nearly as numerous as in 1873, when the total number on the isl ands was estimated at over 4,700,000.
By retaining an efficient control of the number of seals to be killed on the Pribylov Islands, and by fixing this number anew each season in accordance with circumstances, the United States Government will be in a position to counteract the effect of other causes tending to diminish the number of seals, whether climatic or resulting from the killing of a larger number at sea. There is no reason to apprehend that the number of seals which might thus be safely killed on the islands would under any circumstances be so small as to fail to cover the cost of the administration and protection of the islands. If such a policy as this, based on the common interests in the preservation of the seals, were adopted, it might be reasonable to agree (for the purpose of safeguarding the islands and for police purposes) that the jurisdiction of the United States in this matter should be admitted to extend to some greater distance than this usual one of 3 marine miles, though, as shown further on, the necessary distance would not be great.