United States v. Alaska
Annotate this Case
422 U.S. 184 (1975)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Alaska, 422 U.S. 184 (1975)
United States v. Alaska
Argued April 16, 1975
Decided June 23, 1975
422 U.S. 184
Proof held insufficient to establish Cook Inlet as a historic bay, and hence the United States, as against Alaska, has paramount rights to the land beneath the waters of the lower, or seaward, portion of the inlet. Pp. 422 U. S. 189-204.
(a) The sparse evidence as to Russia's exercise of authority over the lower inlet during the period of Russian sovereignty is insufficient to demonstrate the exercise of authority essential to the establishment of a historic bay. Pp. 422 U. S. 190-192.
(b) Nor was the enforcement of fishing and wildlife regulations under various federal statutes and an Executive Order during the period of United States sovereignty over the Territory of Alaska sufficient in scope to establish historic title to Cook Inlet as inland waters, especially where it appears that the geographic scope of such enforcement efforts was determined primarily, if not exclusively, by the needs of effective management of the fish and game population involved, rather than as an intended assertion of territorial sovereignty to exclude all foreign vessels and navigation. Pp. 422 U. S. 192-199.
(c) The mere failure of any foreign nation to protest the authority asserted by the United States during the territorial period is inadequate proof of the acquiescence essential to historic title. It must also be shown that the foreign governments knew or should have known of the authority being asserted, and here the routine enforcement of domestic fish and game regulations was insufficient to inform those governments of any claim of dominion. Pp. 422 U. S. 199-200.
(d) The fact that Alaska, during its statehood, has enforced fishing regulations in the same way as the United States did during the territorial period is likewise insufficient to give rise to historic title to Cook Inlet as inland waters. Pp. 422 U. S. 200-201.
(e) Nor is Alaska's arrest of two Japanese fishing vessels in the Shelikof Strait in 1962 adequate to establish historic title. That incident was an exercise of sovereignty, if at all, only over the waters of Shelikof Strait, and, even if considered as an assertion
of authority over the waters of Cook Inlet, the incident was not sufficiently unambiguous to serve as the basis of historic title: Alaska, as against the Japanese Government, claimed the waters as inland waters, but the United States neither supported nor disavowed the State's position. And regardless of how the incident is viewed, it is impossible to conclude that Alaska's exercise of sovereignty was acquiesced in by the Japanese Government, which immediately protested the incident and has never acceded to Alaska's position. Pp. 422 U. S. 201-203.
497 F.2d 1155, reversed and remanded.
BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and POWELL, JJ., joined. STEWART and REHNQUIST, JJ., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 422 U. S. 204. DOUGLAS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.