St. Paul is located on a narrow peninsula on the southern
tip of St. Paul Island, the largest of five islands in the Pribilofs. It
lies 47 miles north of St. George Island, 240 miles north of the Aleutian
Islands, 300 miles west of the Alaska mainland, and 750 air miles west of
Anchorage. The area encompasses
40.3 sq. miles of land and 255.2 sq. miles of water. The climate of St.
Paul is arctic maritime. The Bering Sea location results in cool weather
year round and a narrow range of mean temperatures varying from 19 to 51.
Average precipitation is 25 inches, with snowfall of 56 inches. Heavy fog is
common during summer months.
The Pribilofs were discovered in 1786 by Russian fur traders. They landed
first on St. George, and named this larger island to the north St. Peter and St.
Paul Island. In 1788, the Russian American Company enslaved and relocated Aleuts
from Siberia, Atka and Unalaska to the Pribilofs to hunt fur seals; their
descendants live on the two islands today. In 1870, the Alaska Commercial
Company was awarded a 20-year sealing lease by the U.S. Government, and provided
housing, food and medical care to the Aleuts in exchange for seal harvesting. In
1890, a second 20-year lease was awarded to the North American Commercial
Company, however, the fur seals had been severely over-harvested and poverty
ensued. The 1910 Fur Seal Act ended private leasing on the Islands and placed
the community and fur seals under the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. Food and
clothing were scarce, social and racial segregation were practiced, and working
conditions were poor.
During World War II, the Pribilof Aleuts were moved to
Funter Bay on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska as part of the emergency
evacuation of residents from the Bering Sea. Unlike other Aleutian residents,
they were confined in an abandoned cannery and mine camp at Funter Bay. In 1979,
the Aleut Islanders received $8.5 million in partial compensation for the unfair
and unjust treatment they were subjected to under federal administration between
1870 and 1946.
Today St. Paul is a port for the Central Bering Sea fishing
fleet, and recent port and harbor improvements have fueled economic growth. The
local commercial halibut fishery got its start in 1981, and a Trident Seafoods
crab processing plant was built in 1989. 30 residents hold commercial fishing
permits for halibut. Cold storage was also recently completed. Unisea and Icicle
fish processors operate near the harbor, and up to nine offshore processors are
serviced out of St. Paul. Fur seal rookeries and more than 210 species of
nesting sea birds attract almost 700 tourists annually. The community is working
to develop eco-tourism. There is also a reindeer herd on the island, from a
previous commercial venture. Residents subsist on halibut, fur seals (1,645 may
be taken each year), reindeer, marine invertebrates, plants and berries.
In 1983, Congress passed the Fur Seal Act Amendments, which
ended government control of the commercial seal harvest and the federal presence
on the island. Responsibility for providing community services and management of
the fur seals was left to local entities. $20 million was provided to help
develop and diversify the Island economy - $12 million to St. Paul and $8
million to St. George. Commercial harvesting on St. Paul ceased in 1985.
Ownership of fur seal pelts is now prohibited except for subsistence purposes.
A federally recognized tribe is located in the community -- the Aleut
Community of St. Paul Island. 86.5% of the population are Alaska Native or part
Native. St. Paul is predominantly Aleut, with a small Eskimo and Indian
population. Although subsistence has not historically been the focus of the
local culture, today halibut and seal are shared and exchanged with relatives
living in other communities for salmon and reindeer. The Russian Orthodox Church
plays a strong role in community cohesiveness.
City of Saint Paul, P.O. Box 901, St. Paul Island, AK
99660, Phone 907-546-2331, E-mail:
Village Council - Aleut Community of St. Paul Island,
P.O. Box 86, St. Paul Island, AK 99660, Phone 907-546-2211