II. Pelagic sealing (or sealing on the high seas.)

[Page 5.]

At the present time the conditions of life on the shore have entirely changed, on account of the unfortunate effect of pelagic sealing. Among all the works published by those organized commissions of scientists, on the part of the United States and England, Volume IV, treating of the Asiatic seals, is in some respects the most original, and of greater value than the other reports of the commissions. With regard to the Commander Islands, the value of that work is especially due to the circumstance that the author, the learned naturalist Steineger, resided upon the islands at the time of the greatest prosperity of the shore herds (the summer colonies), and he was able to compare the then state of things with that of his two visits in the years 1895–1897. In concluding, he pronounced most authoritatively upon the ravages wrought to the sealing grounds and to all reasonable sealing by free pelagic hunting—and solely by that, not by any other cause whatsoever.

“I have been unable to resist the force of the logic which places the blame for the decrease of the Commander Islands’ seals upon pelagic sealing, and upon pelagic sealing alone.”

[Page 12.]

It is well known that marine hunting near the Commander Islands was not so common until the year 1892, although attempted much earlier than that year. On account of the agreement on the modus vivendi concluded between the United States and England, all the operations of sealing schooners was transferred to the Asiatic herds. Russia profited from the year 1893, according to the terms of the agreement signed with England, by a zone of 30 miles around the Commander Islands. The purpose was the timely prevention of the raids by schooners and of their commanders upon the seashore, and thereby to insure the safety of seals and particularly of females, always specially predominant among the pelagic catches.

The work of the Canadian. Japanese, and American schooners which sealed in the neighboring waters of the Commander Islands, and in all the other parts of the sea, is set forth in the following figures:

  • In 1895, 162 schooners operated, and took 92,437 seals.
  • In 1896 there were 94 schooners, which took 69,536 seals.
  • In 1897 there were 71 schooners, which took 39,511 seals.

These schooners were from 20 to 150 tons tonnage; medium size, 69 to 70 tons. Schooners of less than 20 tons were not employed for sealing purposes except near Washington Territory and British Columbia; the owners and crew of these small schooners were natives. But the majority of these schooners came from Victoria, British Columbia; their crews were picked up among the native Indians, sealing in boats. The greatest number of boats attached to schooners is 18 for the large ones; the least number 8 for small schooners. If the crew consists of Europeans, the number of fishing boats is 6 to 10, and not more than 12. Three men were employed in each boat, while 2 men were employed in each canoe.

The number of Canadian schooners was always greater than the American. Thus, in the year 1897 there were 41 Canadian schooners, having a total of 2,708 tons, and 17 American schooners at a tonnage of 898.

In the winter months the schooners do their sealing along the American coast. In the spring they are already near the coast of Japan. In the month of June the schooners pass into Bering Sea, and, finally, toward September, after having finished sealing, the schooners return to British Columbia. From 1889 to 1898 there were 35 schooners damaged, of which 13 sank with all their crews, and but very few vessels that did not lose some men and boats.

III. The sealing grounds in mid seas (pelagic sealing.)

The hunting grounds on the open sea around the Pribilofs are situated toward the west and south of the islands, outside the protective zone (of 60 miles for America). The northwest portion of these grounds, about 75 miles wide, extends farther to the southeast, and reaches the Aleutian Islands.

[Page 448]

The groundsa about Commander, which are the Copper Island grounds, according to the terminology of the schooners, are to be found about two of the Commander Islands. The greater part lies to the south and southeast, and extends away from zone limit of 30 miles more to a distance of about 60 miles. The grounds to the north and northwest are of comparatively small value; their northern limit extends to the Bay of Ouka (Oukinsska) to a distance of 200 miles from Bering Island.

Declaration made to the Honorable Arbitrator, Mr. J. M. C. Asser, July 4, 1902, by the Party Claimant in the Arbitration between the United States and Russia in reply to the Question asked by the Arbitrator relative to the Extent of Jurisdiction claimed by the United States over the Bordering Waters of the Bering Sea.

The delegate of the United States makes this declaration under the specific authority received by him from the Secretary of State of the United States on July 3, 1902, to wit:

The Government of the United States claims, neither in Bering Sea nor in its other bordering waters, an extent of jurisdiction greater than a marine league from its shores, but bases its claim to such jurisdiction upon the following principle: The Government of the United States claims and admits the jurisdiction of a State over its territorial waters only to the extent of a marine league, unless a different rule is fixed by treaty between two States; even then the treaty States are alone affected by the agreement.

(w. s.)
Herbert H. D. Peirce,
Third Assistant Secretary of State,
Delegate of the Government of the United States of America.
  1. The English word generally used, “sealing grounds” (or sometimes “sealingground seals”), can be differently translated, because by that expression is meant those parts or places of sea which are frequented by the seals leaving the coast in search of food during the time of their sojourn on the islands, being the places where the herds generally feed, independently of their arrival from the seashore in winter when they are not staying on the coast.