The Law of Property in Animals, Newfoundland-Style

AuthorBruce Ziff
The Law of Property in Animals,
I inGreenBayjustothenortherncoastofNewfound
land. A schooner called the Brothe rs lay jammed in the ice some distance
from an ice pan containi ng a large number of seal pelts that had been gath
eredbyitscrew severaldaysearlierAstheoes migratedthispan moved
within close proximit y to a second schooner, the Barbara Its crew hauled and
stowed the pelts. Given the prevailing weather and sailing conditions, had
the Barbara’s crew not done so, this catch might well have been lost for good.
Not long after the ships returned to port, a lawsuit sparked by these events
was launched. In essence, the Newfoundland Supreme Court was called
upon to determine whether the second schooner was entitled to cla im the
The ruling, fou nd in CliftvK ane, is a central authority among a cluster of
Newfoundlandcasesheardoverabouta twentysixyearspanto
that addressed that question. These decision s engage fundamental property
law principles and values, and are as rich and edify ing as any of the clas
sic authorities on possession in law. Despite this, they have languished in
obscurity for well over a century. My aim in the chapter is to bring t hem
tothelightof dayandtoexploresomewellknown doctrinesandt heways
inwhichtheser uleswereadaptedtolocalcircumstancesMorespeci cally
this paper examines how the gener ic principles governing the laws of cap
Newfoundla nd sealers.
A Brief History of the Seal “Fishery”
T a long history. Centuries ago, the indigenous peoples of
presentdayNewfoundlandcaptured sealsthe skinsand fatwereusedfor
sustenance, clothing, heat, and light. European interest in the sea l stocks
EnglishandFrenchse lersisknowntohaveexistedsi ncethebeginn ingof
the eighteenth century. The skins were used for such t hings as shoes, boots,
harnesses, and port manteaus. (There is no indication on the early literature
that pelts were used for fur coats.) The fat was rendered into oil and was
used in places such as Great Britain for lighting in m ines and lighthouses, for
SS Nimrod, one of the ships i nvolved in the case of DoylevBartle

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