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The Bering Sea Award, 3 Yale Law Journal 45 (1893)

Abstract

During the present year one more instance has been added to a list already considerable and honorable, of disputes successfully settled by special arbitration on the part of Great Britain and the United States. The award of the commission, to which the settlement of five questions relating to the sealing controversy was referred, was made in August. It may be of interest to attempt very briefly to state what was and what was not decided by this award, and to characterize the policy of our government and the arguments of our counsel in view of it. The facts agreed upon between the parties were that the fur seal was largely diminished in numbers and seemed threatened with extinction. But there existed an irreconcilable difference of opinion as to the cause of this, the experts of the United States, most of them, holding that pelagic slaughter was accountable for it, while those of Great Britain maintained that these unhappy results sprang from the unscientific methods of killing on the Pribilof Islands, practiced by the licensees. The question at issue was this: Has the United States acquired, either through an exclusive jurisdiction over the waters of Bering Sea or through a property right in seals breeding there, the right to protect them in the open sea by force, or must such protection spring from the joint action of the two governments? And if the latter is true, what regulations are necessary to accomplish the purpose? The fact that Great Britain was willing to join in the reference of this latter question, is an important one. It indicated clearly, what she had maintained throughout, though not always with sufficient energy to overcome the hampering influences of the British colonies on this continent, that she desired to preserve the seals from threatened extinction, that the real question was one of method, but that she objected to the assertion of exclusive right in the matter by the United States. This fact should be taken as the key to her policy. It certainly made the task of our government simpler and, as may appear later, its second policy of doubtful expediency.

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1893

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