Mr. Olney to Sir Julian Pauncefote.
Washington , May 7, 1896 .
Excellency: Having sent to the honorable the Secretary of the Treasury copy of your note to me of the 27th of April last, I am now in [Page 269] receipt of a letter from the Secretary, from which the following extracts are taken:
In the note of the British ambassador, it is stated that the whole catch taken from the Alaskan herd, including the land catch on the Pribilof Islands for the years 1894 and 1895, was 71,716 and 71,300, respectively. While this statement is substantially correct for the year 1895, it would appear that in the year 1894 a larger number was taken, namely, 76,871—61,838 at sea and 15,033 on the islands.
The further statement is made in said letter that the fur seals show no apparent diminution in numbers, and attention is called to the fact that the sealing vessels in Bering Sea made practically as large catches during the season of 1895 as in that of 1894, which fact, the ambassador contends, does not point to the immediate extermination of the fur-seal herd. The fact, however, that the seals on the islands have decreased at least one-half since 1890 would seem to answer this claim. A further answer will also be found in the report of the Secretary of the Treasury for 1895 on page cc, wherein it appears that the average catch per vessel on the northwest coast fell off 57 per cent in 1895 as compared with 1894, while the average catch in Bering Sea fell off 12 per cent as compared with 1894. At the same time, while the percentage of females killed in Bering Sea were the same for British vessels in 1894 and 1895, there was an increase from 69 to 73 per cent for American vessels in 1895. That the seal catch is maintained at the figures cited is because of the fact that Bering Sea is a nursery for the herd while it is on the islands, and of the further fact that the seals can be killed easier while in Bering Sea than when traveling off the Pacific Coast toward the islands.
The statement of the ambassador that the total land and sea catch from the Alaskan herd in 1895 was only about one-half of what the same was in 1889, would seem to be a further convincing argument as to the decrease in the seal herd. In this connection, I would state that in 1889 the catch on land and sea was about 132,000, of which 100,000 were taken on the Pribilof Islands and 30,000 at sea, the pelagic catch being about 22 per cent of the total. In 1895, on the other hand, the pelagic catch—56,291—had increased to 78 per cent of the total, 71,291. From 1880 to 1895 the pelagic catch increased from about 8,000 to 56,000, or 600 per cent, while the Pribilof Islands catch decreased from 105,000 to 15,000, or 86 per cent.
It is stated also in said letter that it would now be too late to give effective warning of any change in the regulations, and that vessels which have cleared already for the Japanese coast would be seriously injured by any change at this late date. I have the honor, however, to call your attention to the fact that the modus vivendi of 1891 was agreed upon as late as June 15.
I have, etc.,