No. 35.
Mr. Lothrop to Mr. Bayard.

No. 151.]

Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith the translation of a note from the foreign office, received at the legation yesterday, on the proposition of the United States for an international agreement touching the capture of seals in Behring Sea. The earnestness felt here in the matter is plainly indicated by the language of the note, which speaks of unrestrained seal hunting as a thing which not only threatens the well-being but even the existence of the people of the extreme northeast coast.

This language represents a view which I have heard here in conversation, of course not officially, and which is substantially as follows:

The seal fishery on our Behring coasts is the only resource our people [Page 1855] there have; it furnishes them all the necessaries of life; without it they perish. Now international law concedes to every people exclusive jurisdiction over a zone along its coasts sufficient for its protection: and the doctrine of the equal rights of all nations, on the high seas, rests on the idea that it is consistent with the common welfare and not destructive of any essential rights of the inhabitants of the neighboring coasts. Such common rights, under public law, rest on general consent, and it would be absurd to affirm that such consent had been given, where its necessary result would be the absolute destruction of one or more of the parties. Hence, the rule can not be applied blindly to an unforeseen case, and these alleged common rights must rightfully be limited to cases where they may be exercised consistently with the welfare of all. Behring Sea partakes largely of the character of an inclosed sea; two great nations own and control all its inclosing shores. It possesses a peculiar fishery, which, with reference to its preservation, can only be legitimately pursued on land, and even there only under strict regulations. To allow its unrestrained pursuit in the open waters of the sea is not only to doom it to annihilation, but, by necessary consequence, to destroy all its coast inhabitants. If this result is conceded, it follows that the doctrine of common rights can have no application to such a case.

I have thought it might not be uninteresting to give this as a view which has found expression here, and, if found necessary, I think it not improbable that Russia would feel that she was driven to act on it.

I am, etc.,

Geo. V. N. Lothrop.
[Inclosure in No. 151.—Translation.]

M. de Giers to Mr. Lothrop.

Mr. Minister: Mr. Wurts, under date of August 22 [September 2], was good Enough to communicate to me the views of the Government of the United States of America upon the subject of the desirableness of an understanding, among the Governments concerned, for the regulation of the taking (la chasse) of the fur seal (loutres) in the Behring Sea, in order that an end might be put to those inconsiderate practices of extermination which threaten to dry up, at their source, an important branch of international commerce.

We concur entirely in the views of the Government of the United States. Like it, we also have been for a long time considering what means could be taken to remedy a state of things which is prejudicial not only to commerce and to revenue, but which will not long delay to work disastrous results, not only to the well-being but even to the existence of our people in the extreme northeast. The establishment of a reasonable rule, and of a lawful system in the use (l’exploitation) of the resources, which furnish their only industry, is for those people of vital importance.

The pressing interest which the imperial Government has been thus called to consider had already suggested to it the idea of an international agreement, by which this interest might find its most efficient protection. It is by this way that the different questions involved can be best resolved, and among which there exists, in our opinion, a close connection.

The proposition of an accord emanating from the Government of the United States, and which we take pleasure in considering as a step towards that general solution, must, of course, but meet the sincere sympathies of the imperial Government, and its active support, and this I pray you to make known to the Cabinet at Washington.

Please receive, etc.,