Lord Salisbury to Sir Julian Pauncefote.
Sir: I transmit to your excellency herewith a copy of a note from the United States chargé d’affaires, stating that he has received instructions to bring the question of the fur-seal fishery in the North Pacific to the immediate attention of Her Majesty’s Government, and to express the earnest hope of the President that effective measures may be at once taken by the respective Governments in order to put a stop to the indiscriminate slaughter of the seals through pelagic sealing.
It is suggested that a “modus vivendi” similar to that of 1891 should be agreed to, to be followed by a joint conference of the powers concerned, with a view to the necessary measures being adopted for the preservation of the seals in the North Pacific.
It is further stated, in the event of Her Majesty’s Government concurring in these proposals, full opportunity will be given to Prof. d’Arcy Thompson to visit the seal islands in accordance with the request which was made to the United States Government through your excellency.
Her Majesty’s Government were convinced that the United States Government did not intend to refuse all further opportunity for investigation unless these proposals were accepted, and I have accordingly been glad to receive your excellency’s telegram No. 42 of the 14th instant, stating that the requisite facilities will be accorded to Professor Thompson to enable him to visit the islands again this season, and that Dr. Jordan will, it is hoped, join him in his tour.
The above urgent application is reported to be based on the result of Dr. Jordan’s investigations last year, in which it is stated Professor Thompson is believed to concur.
I am now able to inclose, for communication to the United States Government, copies of Mr. Thompson’s report, from which it will be seen that the President is mistaken in supposing that in the opinion of the British agent there is any immediate cause for alarm. Dr. Jordan’s report, moreover, has been carefully examined and does not appear to contain any facts which would warrant the statement made in Mr. White’s note as to the “depleted condition and prospective early extinction of the herd.” On the contrary, both reports are generally to the effect that the number of seals in 1896 show no evidence of any measurable diminution as compared with 1895, and that no immediate danger is to be apprehended to the herd, which appears to be in a much better condition than was reported in 1894 and 1895.[Page 271]
For instance, in commenting on the statistics of 1895–96 for St. George Island, Mr. Thompson states, at page 7 of his report, that although the figures may not afford any positive evidence of an actual increase of the herd between the seasons of 1895 and 1896, on the other hand it is abundantly clear that there is no evidence at all to show a decrease during that period, and that the state of the herd on the island is at least very much better than it was believed to be from the reports of the American agents in 1896. He further observes (page 17) that had the decrease in the rookeries been as great and evident as it was reported to be up to 1895 the next twelve months would surely have shown signs still more unequivocal of continued impoverishment of the stock.
The photographs, however, show, with very few exceptions, an identical record. The harems were counted in both years by the same agents, and all the rookeries but one show a large increase in the latter year.
Owing to the stormy weather prevailing during last sealing season the pelagic catch was much reduced, the catch in Bering Sea having only been about two-thirds of that of 1895. The low prices, moreover, realized for last year’s skins are likely to lead to a smaller number of vessels fitting out for the fishery this season, and there is therefore no information before Her Majesty’s Government to warrant the belief of the United States Government that to defer taking up the subject until after the season of 1898 would be fatal to the preservation of the I herd.
I Similar statements as to the immediate disappearance of the herd have been made in previous years, but experience has shown that the fears then expressed were groundless, and Her Majesty’s Government are convinced that they will prove to be equally so on the present occasion.
The small catch and low prices obtained for the skins last year brought many of the owners of the sealing vessels to the verge of. bankruptcy, and were Her Majesty’s Government to prohibit pelagic sealing altogether for this year it would mean the probable ruin of a considerable number of British subjects engaged in a lawful industry. Of course, if the United States Government are prepared to give adequate compensation to the sealing fleet on account of its enforced abstention from the fishery this season, Her Majesty’s Government would have no reason for refusing their assent to the proposal for a “modus vivendi,” but they do not gather that such is the case, and it would be impossible for them to submit a note to Parliament for the purpose, holding, as they do, that no sufficient reason has been shown for its necessity.
As regards the proposed conference, Her Majesty’s Government are of opinion that further investigation is necessary on many points connected with seal life before the questions at issue could be discussed with the hope of attaining any satisfactory result.
Dr. Jordan and Professor Thompson are agreed that it is most important that an accurate count of seals on the principal rookeries should be made during several seasons, in order to ascertain the changes from year to year, and there are other important points mentioned in the conclusion of Mr. Thompson’s report, on which, pending further inquiry, he finds it desirable to suspend judgment.
It is admitted that the investigation carried out last year afforded for the first time any really reliable statistics in regard to the condition of the herd, and that all previous reports received on the subject are practically valueless for purposes of comparison.[Page 272]
To estimate accurately the effect on the herd of the various agencies now at work, reliable statistics extending over a sufficient period to enable accidental circumstances to be eliminated should be available, and Her Majesty’s Government must adhere to the view set forth iu my dispatch, No. 42, of the 6th ultimo—that further investigation is required before the question of revising the regulations can be considered.
Your excellency will read this dispatch to the Secretary of State, and leave a copy of it with him should he desire it.
I am, etc.,