Sir Julian Pauncefote to Mr. Olney.

Sir: With reference to your note No. 344, of the 11th ultimo, in which you urge the adoption of some further restrictions on pelagic sealing in Bering Sea for the coming season in view of the alleged imminent extermination of the fur-seal herd, I have the honor to inform you that the contents of your note have received the careful consideration of Her Majesty’s Government.

I am instructed by Her Majesty’s principal secretary of state for foreign affairs to state that the apprehensions of the United States Government on this head appear to be founded mainly on the fact that by actual count 28,000 dead pups were found in the island last year, and on the assumption that the deaths of these pups were the direct result of their mothers having been killed at sea.

But, from the exhaustive discussion of the question in the report and supplementary report of the British Bering Sea Commissioners, it has not been satisfactorily established that the mortality of the pups is caused by the killing of seals at sea. The date, moreover, which the arbitrators fixed for the opening of Bering Sea pelagic sealing, and the radius within which sealing was prohibited around the Pribilof Islands, were determined, after full consideration, to be sufficient to protect nursing females, whose pups were not able to provide for themselves.

It should also be borne in mind that in the Bering Sea catch of 1895 the proportion of males to females taken by Canadian sealers was about 45 per cent of males against 55 per cent of females, although the returns of the American sealers in that sea give an average of 3 females to 1 male.

In the meantime the admitted fact that the seals at sea show no apparent diminution of numbers, and that the sealers in Bering Sea were able to make practically as large catches last year as in the previous year, does not point to the imminent extermination of the seals.

[Page 267]

The returns show that the Canadian sealing vessels all kept well outside the 60-mile radius, and as there seems little doubt that during the period when sealing is allowed in Bering Sea the great bulk of the seals are inside that limit, the natural deduction is that less than half the herd is at any time exposed to capture, and that the danger of extermination by pelagic sealing must therefore be comparatively remote.

It is observed that on the islands 15,000 seals were killed last season as compared with 16,000 in the season of 1894; but in the reports which have been received on this point it is not stated whether any difficulty was experienced in obtaining that number of skins nor from what class of seals the skins were taken.

Taking into account the catch on the islands, the whole catch from the Alaskan herd was 71,300 in 1895 as compared with 71,716 in 1894, being only about half the total catch taken in 1889 and previous years; and though it may be the case that a slaughter of some 70,000 a year is more than the herd can properly bear for a series of years, Her Majesty’s Government see no reason to believe that it is so large as to threaten early extermination.

The necessity for the immediate imposition of increased restrictions to take effect during the coming season does not, therefore, appear to be established, and it be must borne in mind that at this late period it is no longer possible to give effective warning of any change in the regulations to the large number of vessels which have already cleared for the Japan coast fishery and which will, after that is concluded, proceed to Bering Sea for the opening of the fishery in August. The imposition of restrictions without due warning would cause great confusion and hardship and would, undoubtedly, give rise to large claims for compensation on ground which could not with justice or reason be disputed.

But Her Majesty’s Government fully share the desire so strongly expressed by your Government that all necessary and practicable measures should be taken to prevent the possible extermination of the seals.

As a precaution for the strict observance of the regulations prescribed by the Tribunal of Arbitration and now in force, they will give directions for the employment of an additional cruiser this season in policing the fisheries, although, as far as they have been able to judge, the force employed up to the present time has been sufficient.

In accordance with the desire expressed by you in your note, No. 317, of the 6th of February, Her Majesty’s Government have requested the Dominion Government to issue a notice to the effect that the returns which the sealing vessels are required to furnish shall in future specify which of the females killed are barren and which are in milk, and a reply has been received from His Excellency the Governor-General of Canada that this will be done.

In order to investigate more completely the question of the necessity of further restrictions in future years, Her Majesty’s Government are desirous at once to take the necessary steps for conducting an independent inquiry on the Pribilof Islands into the state of the herd, by an agent sent from Great Britain. This gentleman would be a naturalist possessed of the necessary scientific qualifications, and care will be taken to select a person who will be entirely free from bias in carrying out the mission intrusted to him.

The Canadian Government are also desirous of sending Mr. Macoun again to the islands this season, in order to continue his investigations.

The British agent and Mr. Macoun would arrive at the islands early in June and remain until toward the end of September, and Her [Page 268] Majesty’s Government would be glad if the United States authorities would grant them all necessary facilities and cooperate with them as far as possible.

It has been suggested that arrangements might perhaps be made with the company which leases the seal catch on the Pribilof Islands to allow the British agent and Mr. Macoun to proceed in their steamer as passengers.

I have, etc.,

Julian Pauncefote.