The Acting Secretary of State to Minister Griscom.

No. 84.]

Sir: I inclose herewith for your information copies of a letter and its accompanying inclosure from the Department of the Interior, also of the Department’s reply thereto, in relation to the destruction of sea fowl on Midway and other islands of the Hawaiian group by Japanese subjects.

I am, etc.,

F. B. Loomis.
[Inclosure 1.]

The Secretary of the Interior to the Secretary of State.

Sir: Referring to Department letter of July 23, 1903,a in relation to the destruction of sea fowl on Midway and other islands of the Hawaiian group by Japanese subjects and your reply thereto dated August 15, 1903,a I have the honor to transmit herewith a copy of a paper prepared by W. A. Bryan, special inspector of birds and animals at Honolulu, Hawaii, received by reference from the President, calling attention to the continued destruction of birds on the islands belonging to the Hawaiian group, etc.

You stated, among other things, that it seemed especially desirable that the nuisance arising from slaughtering birds should be suppressed on hygienic grounds and that the officers of the Navy Department might be enlisted to that end; furthermore, that if it should be found that the objectionable practices of the Japanese could not be stopped by any means short of deportation this government would approach the Japanese Government with a view to effecting such deportation with as little hardship as possible.

I have to request, therefore, to be advised as to what further steps, if any, the State Department has taken in this matter.

Very respectfully,

E. A. Hitchcock.
[Subinclosure 1.]

Mr. Bryan, special inspector of birds and animals, to the President.

Sir: While in New York and Washington during the latter part of July, Mr. William Dutcher, president of the national committee of Audubon societies for the protection of birds, made an attempt to arrange a meeting with you at which I might have the honor to bring before you in person the urgent need of our government taking active steps to prevent the extermination of the bird colonies on the outlying islands in the North Pacific Ocean, knowing it to be a matter in which you take an active interest.

It was impossible to arrange an audience at that time, and in accordance with the suggestion of your secretary I submit herewith a sketch of the wanton destruction of bird life on these islands, in the belief that it can and will be stopped in the near future.

During the past few years I have visited practically all of the low coral islands in the North Pacific, and have been appalled at the destruction of the birds on these islands by Japanese “plume hunters,” who make a business of visiting not only the bird islands of their own possessions, but those of the United States as well, and killing birds by the hundreds of thousands.

On Marcus Island a colony had been at work for six years. In that short time they had wiped out of existence one of the largest albatross colonies in these waters. So complete was their work of destruction that during the year of my visit (1902) they had only secured 13 [Page 577] specimens of the albatross. While there I estimated that they had 40,000 tern skins ready for shipment, which was the second boat load to be shipped that year.

Most of the sea birds rear but a single young, a fact which makes their extermination certain if this slaughter is allowed to continue.

Midway Island at the time of my visit in 1902 was covered with great heaps of albatross carcasses which a crew of poachers had left to rot on the ground after the quill feathers had been pulled out of each bird. This mischief was done notwithstanding the fact that the previous year a similar party had been warned off by the United States steamer Iroquois, which visited the island by chance.

Layson Island, which fortunately is at present worked for guano, is inhabited by a company of laborers. So far this large and interesting colony has not been molested, although “bird-skin pirates” have more than once called there in the hope of finding the island uninhabited.

The inclosed clipping gives a reliable account of recent depredations on the neighboring island of Lisiansky, which is not 50 miles from Layson.

I am informed that the other low islands in the chain are similarly scourged.

The necessity of visiting these islands from time to time has been brought to the attention of various departments of the government by Mr. E. R. Stackable, collector of customs for the port, in the hope that a much needed revenue cutter might be permanently stationed in these waters. I would not presume here to go over the ground which he has so ably covered in his reports further than to summarize and say that such a vessel is needed here—

  • First. To enforce the immigration laws—to prevent aliens from visiting these uninhabited and unvisited islands as temporary landing places on the way to the larger islands.
  • Second. To enforce the customs laws—prevent smuggling, etc.
  • Third. To assist distressed vessels (see clipping), as life saving stations—the value of this chain of islands, stretching as they do for hundreds of miles along the track of trans-Pacific travel, can not be overestimated when it is known that they will be regularly visited by a relief vessel.
  • Fourth. For the protection of property. Such a vessel would effectually break up the wholesale slaughter of sea birds which inhabit these islands, a step which must be taken now if it is to be at all effective.

In conclusion I would therefore again respectfully urge upon your attention the importance of the Federal Government maintaining in these waters a revenue cutter which would be regularly stationed at Honolulu under the direction of the Treasury Department and the local collector of customs in the usual manner, with its duties so arranged that the vessel would make at least two trips a year to the outlying islands of the region to enforce the immigration and customs laws, to relieve shipwrecked and marooned seamen, and prevent the destruction of bird life on the several islands and in various other ways make it possible to protect and utilize our possessions in these waters.

Trusting the subject may receive your favorable consideration, I remain, etc,

Wm. Alanson Bryan.

[Subinclosure 2.]

bird slaughter by japanese.

[Honolulu letter in San Francisco Chronicle.]

Captain Hamlet, of the Thetis, states that the destruction wrought by the party of Japanese poachers on Lisiansky Island to bird life was something appalling. He estimates that they killed at least 300,000 birds, to judge from the number of cases of plumage and the amount of meat they secured. All of their spoil had to be abandoned; but it is properly preserved and will keep for a long time. There are 335 of these cases, the plumage in them being of the highest quality.

The Japanese who were brought here by the Thetis are the remains of a party of bird poachers whose presence on an American island was reported by Captain Niblack of the United States steamer Iroquois some weeks ago and the Thetis was sent to stop their operations, but she arrived to find them only too anxious to leave their hunting ground and to abandon spoil which is worth at least $20,000.

The Japanese were employed by a Tokyo firm and they fitted out in the schooner Yeiju Maru in Yokohama last December. Their destination was Lisiansky Island, a wonderful center of ocean-bird life in mid-Pacific not far from Midway Island. The island is the property of the United States.

[Page 578]

According to their story, they arrived at Lisiansky Island on January 8 and commenced at once to kill birds. They had a staff not only of hunters but also of skilled taxidermists and skinners, for the birds’ plumage was intended for the millinery markets of Paris. The men collected skins and wings by the thousand, the birds being very tame.

On January 18 a fierce gale struck the island and the Yeiju Maru, dragging her anchor, struck a coral reef and was totally lost, ten of the men who happened to be aboard being drowned. Seventy-seven men were left helpless on the island.

[Inclosure 2.]

The Acting Secretary of State to the Secretary of the Interior.

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 1st instant in further relation to the destruction of sea fowl on Midway and other islands of the Hawaiian group by Japanese subjects.

You refer to the Department’s letter of August 15, 1903, in which, among other things, it was stated that if it should be found that the objectionable practices of the Japanese could not be stopped by any means short of deportation, this government would approach that of Japan with a view to effecting such deportation with as little hardship as possible; and you ask to be advised what further steps, if any, the Department of State has taken in the matter.

In reply I have the honor to inform you that the Japanese Government has made no response to our overtures in regard to the deportation of Japanese bird poachers. So far as appears, no exception was taken to the deportation of the Lisiansky poachers last year, and the action of the Japanese consul at Honolulu in caring for the deported Japanese seems to have had the approval of his government. It seems desirable that other poachers should be removed in the same way as occasion offers, and it is presumed that arrangements to that end could be made in consultation with the Japanese consul at Honolulu.

I have, etc.,

F. B. Loomis.
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.