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Europe and the east coast of North America; they sailed away down the Atlantic and devoted all their energies to the vast seal nations they found along the southern shores of America and Africa and on the islands of the great Southern Ocean. We have full record of the millions upon millions of fur-seal seen and slaughtered on these islands. Mr. Blaine has published most interesting evidence of this episode, showing that, in round numbers between the years 1790 and 1830 at least 15,000,000 seals are known to have been killed on these various islands- Mas-a-fuera, South Shetland, Crozet, Kerguelan, &c. He also shows clearly that this wholesale slaughter on the breeding places had the effect of practically exterminating the whole seal nation of those seas.
In the meantime, enterprising Russians, crossing from Siberia to Alaska, soon discovered the valuable fur-seals breeding in the North Pacific. There are records that even in the last century they sought the autocratic aid of their Government to preserve this industry for themselves. But American and British vessels penetrated to these seas, and in 1822 we have an American whaler, the Pearl, seized and condemned by the Russians; just as in 1887 it has happened that the Americans seized and condemned a British vessel. The Americans at once protested and Russia promptly made full restitution. By the year 1830 the scals of the Southern Ocean were practically exterminated, and whalers hailing from Bristol and Boston and other Atlantic ports of Europe and North America came cruising in Behring Sea, and promptly turned some of their attention to seals. The British and American Governments from 1820 onwards pursued a policy of vigorous and successful protest against the claims of Russia to exclusive rights of fishing and trading in these seas. British and American whalers as a consequence began to frequent these seas in search of whales and of walrus for “ivory."
Up to this date the only recognised method of sealing was to land on some brecding place and kill the seals required. To capture seals at sea, except on rare occasions, was thought as little practicable or profitable in Behring Sea as it would be now in the North Atlantic by the Newfoundland hair-seal hunters. But the breeding places in the North Pacific were few, and they soon came to be very jealously guarded by Russian occupiers. These latter, however, from
time to time slaughtered indiscriminately, while at other times they enforced strict protective regulations. Altogether, the numbers of the fur-seal continued moderate. As
As years rolled on, and probably in part because of the exhaustion of the great stock of furs acquired in the South Seas, more and more attention was paid to the fur-seal in the North Pacific by the lucky owners of the breeding islands.
All this while it had been customary for the so-called "Indians" along the American coast, from San Francisco northwards up to Sitka, to capture fur-seals. The Indians knew that the seals migrated northwards along these coasts in the early part of each year. At various points, such as Cape Flattery, Barclay Sound, and the Charlotte Islands, a great many were taken. Indeed, all along these shores the Indians seldom allowed a seal to “haul out” but it was harpooned. Seal pups, all travellers report, were not only ordinary household or “wigwam" pets, but also a favourite article of food. Then ensued a period when the fur acquired a market value. In 1846 the great Hudson's Bay Company had set up their authority, and from their fort at Victoria controlled the fur trade of the northerly Pacific slope. The Indians brought in sealskins, and reported that on Vancouver Island in April and May female seals came ashore to bring forth their young, while the elder males travelled rapidly to the north, and were followed later on by droves of frisky "bachelors."
In the year 1867 the Government of the United States, in spite of half-hearted opposition in Congress, purchased Alaska from Russia. Very speedily American enterprise took hold of the furseal industry, and the great breeding grounds of the Pribelov Islands became the objects of active aggression. Roving sealing vessels at once " marauded” on the islands ; two rival factions, armed and resolute, actually landed and contended for possession, ultimately making terms with one another, and between them taking over the islands on lease from the Government.
In 1872 we made a first appeal to the Federal Authorities for protection against marauders, and we had the regretful but final reply of the Treasury of the United States that no Government action was possible outside the three mile limit.
Excellent regulations were now introduced for the protection of
the seals and right ordering of such killing as was necessary on the islands. These regulations were made, in common with others, for the territory of Alaska “ and waters thereof,” and “ the islands of St. Paul and St. George and waters adjacent thereto." So far as the "rookeries” were concerned, these wise measures resulted in a marked increase in the numbers of the seals frequenting them. Harassed and in danger of slaughter by the Indians all along the coast, the seal nation came to find practically undisturbed breeding quarters on the Pribelov Islands, where they came to land in the end of Junc, reinaining till October. Then they went off south for months in search of food, reappearing off the American coast, about San Diego, in December. By the month of April they were off Cape Flattery, and in May were to be found along the shores of Vancouver Island, reaching the Pribelov Islands again by the end of June.
The consequent increase in numbers duly attracted the attention of the whalers cruising up to Behring Straits. The catching of seals at sca, hitherto a mere incident, now became a main business, and in a few years vessels came to be fitted out for the sole purpose of catching seals at sea. Such an innovation at once alarmed the proprietors of the breeding islands, and they promptly used their best endeavours to scotch the movement in its inception. At the first they endeavoured to prevent raids on or close to the breeding islands. In 1881 fresh appeals were made to the United States Treasury, and warnings were issued against breach of the regulations in Alaska or “the waters thereof," and the idea was permitted to grow that this latter phrase included all these scas.
In 1884 the British schooner Mary Ellen, and the Fai'ourite in 1885, had successful scasons with the seals ; in 1886 twelve “scalers” were fitted out in Victoria. In 1886, also, the world was startled to learn that three British vessels had been seized, a long way out on the open sca, forty to seventy miles from any land ; carried captive into the port of Sitka, and condemned with fines, and even with imprisonment for the captains and officers.
That autumn I visited the Pacific coast and heard the interesting and somewhat heated arguments, at first hand, both of the company renting the islands and also of the “pelagic ”scalers, whether
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of American nationality, hailing from San Francisco or neighbouring ports, or of British nationality, hailing from Victoria. It appeared to me at the time that the matter could then be very easily settled, as it was a mere squabble within the four corners of a limited industry. I endeavoured in the Press and in Parliament, and by representation to the Government, to urge such a course with the view of preventing the growth of future complications. But the Government of the day had its hands full with its abortive scheme of Home Rule for Ireland ; the golden opportunity was allowed to
; slip by, and time rapidly added to the difficulties and embittered the disputes. The following year there were sixteen seizures. My next effort was to secure that this question should be included in the Fisheries Conserence, so ably conducted on our behalf by Mr. Chamberlain and Sir Charles Tupper. I pointed out that on the Atlantic the United States denied to Canada fishery rights within the usual limits of territorial waters, but that on the Pacific the United States claimed exclusive fishery rights extending one hundred miles from the coast line; and that thus the two claims, on Atlantic and Pacific, virtually balanced cach other, and could best be settled together. But other counsels prevailed ; the Behring Sea question was withdrawn from the Conference, a truce for the 1888 season in Behring Sea being the only and, of course, temporary result.
In 1889 more seizures were made; but in 1890 a voluntary cessation of hostilities accompanied an active renewal of negotiations. Two Conferences took place, the one in London, the other in Washington; and although no tangible results came of them, the ground was cleared and the door left open to some lasting settlement. Above all, both sides agreed to arbitration in principle. No agreement has yet been come to as to the specific points to be thus referred, but both are agreed that the point in dispute is the right in International Law as conditioned by treaty engagements.
More recently a definite step has been taken by the owners of one of the first vessels seized. This is in the form of a motion before the Supreme Court of the United States for a Writ of Prohibition, that is to say, for an order from the Supreme Court to the
Court of Alaska to annul its proceedings in condemning vessels arrested outside the three mile limit. When I was in British Columbia in 1888 there was great talk of simple appeal to the Supreme Court for review of the judgment of the inferior court. But it was supposed that no appeal could lie owing to an omission in the Act of Congress constituting the territory of Alaska. In such case the American Constitution would be shown to have failed to provide for the supremacy of the Federal Power over a great area of United States territory. Such an error could be remedied by Congress in process of time. But for the moment a Writ of Prohibition seemed the only course open. Even this course is beset with difficulties, and will be opposed on such grounds as that the case is political and not legal; refers to the Constitution of Alaska and not to actual legal proceedings; is a matter for the Executive and not for the law courts. There is no doubt as to the decision that the Supreme Court would give if the question could be pleaded before them in its simplicity.
It is generally forgotten, however, that this question of seizure is, however great from an international point of view, a mere minor question to that of the industry itself. It is merely as to the lesser or greater extension of one State's authority over certain seas, but it does not affect and cannot affect the whole of those seas. If the American case were conceded to-morrow in its entirety it would merely mean that “pelagic ” sealers would not be permitted to fish north of the Aleutian Islands. This means that they would miss one-third of their present catch. But they would remain absolutely free to prosecute by every means in their power the capture of seals at sea over all the ocean to the south of these islands, where already they obtain two-thirds of their catch.
The owners of the islands complain that the "pelagic ” sealers necessarily lose nine out of every ten seals they kill, and that 99 per cent of those they kill are females, mostly in pup. My careful local inquiries show both these complaints to be enormous exaggerations. But what I would here point out is that, in so far as they are true, in so far the owners of the Rookeries, by pressing the one claim of jurisdiction within Behring Sea, and making all to hinge thereon, will absolutely free and incite these “pelagic