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The final EIS contains a brief history of the Convention and a review of domestic laws which affect its implementation. A thorough discussion of the social and economic conditions on the Pribilof Islands, their history, and the plans of the Island residents for fisheries development and economic diversity is provided to explain the relationship of the Convention and the seal harvest to the Aleut people. All interested parties are encouraged to review the following discussions of alternatives and environmental impacts and provide their views and comments to the Information Contacts listed above.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
9. Status of the Fur Seals on the Pribilof Islands
1. PURPOSE OF AND NEED FOR ACTION
A Protocol extending the Interim Convention on Conservation of North Pacific Fur Seals for four years was signed by representatives of Canada, Japan, the Soviet Union and the United States on October 12, 1984. The Protocol is a result of negotiations that began after publication of a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in November 1983 and the expiration of a public comment period on January 6, 1984. The Department of State, in consultation with the Department of Commerce, sought agreement among the Party Governments on certain modifications to the Convention, as outlined in the draft Eis. A consensus could not be reached on the specific U.S. proposals. The negotiations, however, resulted in a Statement attached to the Protocol and signed by the Party Governments (see Appendix A), that clarifies certain parts of the Convention. The Statement notes the concerns expressed on the decline of the fur seal populations, current economic conditions, and other problems of fur seal conservation and utilization.
We feel these changes will improve the Convention and that it will continue to provide the best available protection for northern fur seals throughout their range. The Department of State and the Department of Commerce, therefore, plan to recommend that the Senate give its advice and consent to the ratification of the 1984 Protocol. In order to place a decision on the future of this treaty in context with relevant historical and legal actions, we have prepared the following summaries of the history of the Convention and domestic laws which affect its implementation.
A. History of the Convention
The United States' responsibility for fur seals began in 1867 when Alaska, including the Pribilof Islands, was purchased from Russia. The estimated existing Pribilof seal population was between 2 and 2.5 million. Estimates of harvest size in 1868 and 1869 vary from 226,000 to 329,000. A 20 year lease of sealing rights on the Pribilofs was granted to the Alaska Commercial Company for 1870 through 1889. During the lease the annual harvest was not to exceed 100,000 males of 1 year of age or older. During this first lease period, pelagic sealing (harvest from vessels at sea) for fur seals by nationals from several nations increased from 5,000 to 30,000 per year.
In 1890, the sealing rights to the Pribilof Islands were again leased for 20 years, but the contracted annual quota was reduced and ranged from 7,500 to 60,000. The annual land harvest during this period averaged 17,000, the average estimated annual pelagic take was 42,000 animals. In 1910, the leasing of land harvest rights was abolished. The Pribilof Islands were made a special reservation by Congress, and the Secretary of Commerce and Labor was given direct responsibility for the islands and the fur seal industry. On the Commander and Robben Islands (under Russian jurisdiction), the average annual total harvest from 1871 to 1895 was 36,645, but was quickly reduced to insignificant levels thereafter due to combined overharvesting on land and at sea.
An international agreement to protect the fur seals from pelagic sealing was first signed in 1891; however, the first effective regulations by the United States came with the Fur Seal Treaty of 1911. With the signing of this treaty, the fur seal population was protected from pelagic sealing by the nationals of Great Britain, Japan, Russia and the United States. Commercial sealing on the Pribilof Islands was halted in 1912 by an Act of Congress until August 21, 1917. Since 1917, the harvest has been controlled first by a quota, and now by a government regulated harvest which takes only non-breeding males.
From 1925 to 1935, the world population of northern fur seals increased rapidly. Twice during the period, in 1926 and again in 1936, the Japanese Government tried to renegotiate the Fur Seal Treaty of 1911 because of alleged damage caused to its fisheries by the increasing fur seal population. Finally, in 1941, Japan notified the other members that it was abrogating the treaty because of this da mage. From 1941 until the present Convention became effective in 1957, the Pribilof Island herd was protected by a provisional agreement between the United States and Canada. Pelagic sealing occurred only in the western North Pacific Ocean and was estimated to be no more than 6,000 annually.
The Interim Convention on Conservation of North Pacific Fur Seals was signed in Washington, D.C. on February 9, 1957, by the Governments of Canada, Japan, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the United States of America. The Convention came into force on October 14, 1957. It was amended by a Protocol on October 8, 1963, which in turn entered into force on April 10, 1964. The Protocol extended the terms of the Convention for an additional six years and effected several changes with respect to the scientific research programs to be carried out by the Party Governments. The Convention, as amended, was continued in force for an additional six years by an exchange of notes among the Party Governments which became effective on September 3, 1969. In 1975, at a series of meetings of the Party Governments, the conference representatives, although unable to agree on U.S. proposals for a new management regime based upon an "optimum sustainable population" concept, agreed on a Protocol to extend the Convention for an additional four years. This Protocol was signed on May 7, 1976, and entered into force on October 12, 1976.
On October 14, 1980, a Protocol extending the Convention until 1984 was signed by Party Governments. On June 11, 1981, the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to the ratification of this Protocol with the following Understanding: "It is the understanding of the Senate that appropriate studies shall be undertaken to (1) determine the fur seal feeding habits and food requirements and the at-sea migration and distribution patterns of various age/sex classes of fur seals; (2) determine the impact of any possible adjustments in the size of the harvest on the Pribilof Island residents, the fur seal herd, and the Bering Sea ecosystem; (3) in consultation with the Aleuts, determine the impact of various mutually acceptable alternative sources of employment for Pribilof Island residents on those residents, the fur seal herd, and the Bering Sea ecosystem and possible means of promoting said sources of employment. The results of these studies shall be reported to the Congress by the Administration for referral to the appropriate committees no later than March 1, 1984."
The report requested by the Senate was incorpora ted into the draft EIS and published on November 10, 1983. Over 400 copies of this document were distributed to Congressional offices and other interested parties. This final EIS includes updates to the previously reported material, especially in the area of alternative employment sources for Pribilof Island residents.
Unlike other international forums (notably the International Whaling Commission), the NPFSC does not normally set annual harvest quotas for either the United States or the Soviet Union, but seeks through the general provisions of the Convention, to maintain a high population level of northern fur seals. Article V, paragraph 2(d) of the Convention states: "[The North Pacific Fur Seal Commission shall recommend appropriate measures to the Parties on the basis of the findings obtained from the implementation of such coordinated research programs, including measures regarding the size and age composition of the seasonal commercial kill from a herd and regarding a reduction or suspension of the harvest of seals on any island or group of islands in case the total number of seals on that island or group of islands falls below the level of maximum sustainable pro