Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Pub. Date
Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
1041 of 1105

TREATIES, Fishery.


TREATIES, Fishery. At the close of the revolutionary war, in the negotiations which preceded the treaty of Sept. 3, 1783, one of the most important questions discussed had reference to a definition of the privileges of fishermen, citizens of the United States, in the waters of British North America. Their right to fish on the Grand Banks or in the gulf of St. Lawrence, or elsewhere in the open sea, could not, of course, be denied, but it was claimed that they should not fish in British waters, or land in British territory to dry or cure their catch. At that time the methods of our fishermen were different from those now in use. The resources of our own coast were little understood, and the greater part of the New England fishing fleet resorted every summer to Labrador, Newfoundland, and the gulf of St. Lawrence, where they fished near the shores, making a harbor usually every night, always in threatening weather, and curing their fish upon the rocky shores, before loading them into the vessels for final home transportation. It was therefore important that they should retain as many as possible of the privileges enjoyed by them before the outbreak of the revolution. A compromise was finally agreed upon, and by the terms of article III. of the treaty of Paris (Sept. 3, 1783), it was arranged that the people of the United States should have liberty to fish on such parts of the coast of Newfoundland as British fishermen could, and also on the coasts, bays and creeks of all other of their Britannic majesties' dominions in America; and to dry and cure fish in the bays, harbors and creeks of Nova Scotia, the Magdalen islands and Labrador, so long as they were unsettled, or after their settlement if they could secure permission from the inhabitants or proprietors. By this treaty they were excluded simply from their former privilege of drying fish on the coasts of Newfoundland, Prince Edward island and Cape Breton.


—The war of 1812 suspended for a second time the privileges of our fishermen in British waters; and when the question of their readjustment was brought up, strong petitions were made by the British colonists against a renewal of the privileges of 1783.


—At the first meeting of the commissioners assembled at Ghent to draw up the articles of peace, it was announced "that the British government did not intend to grant to the United States gratuitously the privileges formerly granted * * for purposes connected with the fisheries." They argued that the claim of an immemorial and prescriptive right to these privileges was untenable, and that the rights which the inhabitants of the United States had possessed when British subjects, could not be continued to them after they had become citizens of an independent state. After much discussion the subject was dropped, and the treaty of Ghent (Dec. 24, 1814) contained no reference to the fishery question. The governors of the British colonies were now instructed to exclude our fishing vessels from their harbors and coasts, and the naval officers stationed in that district received orders to resist all encroachments. The result was the capture of several of our fishing vessels on the charge of trespassing in British waters.


—In 1818 commissioners from the two countries met in London to settle amicably disputed points in connection with the fisheries, and their deliberations resulted in the signing of the convention of Oct. 20, 1818. By the terms of the first article of the convention it was provided that subjects of the United States should have forever the right to take fish of every kind on the southern, western and northern coasts of Newfoundland, on the shores of the Magdalen islands, and on that of Labrador, from Cape Jolly northward, and to dry and cure fish in any of the bays, harbors and creeks of these regions, except the Magdalens, so long as they should remain unsettled. The United States renounced any claim of right to take, dry or cure fish on or within three marine miles of any British territory not mentioned in the specifications above. American fishermen were, however, to be admitted to all harbors for shelter, repair of damages, purchasing wood or obtaining water. In order to secure the observance of this treaty our government issued to its fishermen a notice warning them against violation of the provisions of the first article of the above mentioned convention, a copy of which was annexed to the circular.


—In 1847, in consequence of a petition addressed to the queen by the Canadian parliament, negotiations were opened for the establishment of reciprocal free trade between the United States and Canada. In exchange for reciprocity in trade with the United States in all natural productions, such as fish, wheat, timber, etc., access was offered to the fisheries of all the colonies, except Newfoundland, which refused consent. Some years were consumed in fruitless effort, and it was not until June 5, 1854, that the reciprocity treaty was signed, the senate of the United States confirming it August 3. By this treaty the fishermen of the United States gained a right to fish on all the coasts of British North America, while British fishermen gained access to the waters of the United States north of Cape May (latitude 36°); the salmon and shad fisheries were reserved for the exclusive uses of the subjects of each country; certain rivers and months of rivers, to be determined by a commission to be appointed for that purpose, were also reserved. The treaty also contained numerous provisions to secure and regulate free trade in certain articles of commerce. The treaty was to remain in force for ten years, after which it could be terminated upon a year's notice by either party. The commission to designate the places reserved to each country occupied years in deliberations, the results of which were so insignificant that they do not deserve discussion in this connection.


—The reciprocity treaty terminated March 17, 1866, in consequence of notice given by the United States, notwithstanding efforts on the part of Great Britain to secure its renewal. The provisions of the treaty of 1818 were now revived, and continued in force until 1871, a period of fifteen years, during which there were constant clashing and uncertainty. American fishermen were at once warned that their right to fish in British waters would terminate on the 17th of March 1866. It was subsequently decided, however, that during 1866 vessels from the United States should be allowed to fish in all provincial waters upon the payment of a nominal license fee to be exacted as a formal recognition of right. This privilege was continued for four years. In 1870 it was, however, discontinued, owing, it is claimed by the British government, to the failure of our fishermen to provide themselves with licenses, a claim which was to a certain extent, I have no doubt, a true one. During the year 1870 a considerable number of American fishing vessels were seized by British and provincial vessels, and forfeited.


—It now became necessary for the two governments again to meet the question squarely, and to this end was appointed the joint high commission, which met in Washington, Feb. 27-May 8, 1871, and from whose deliberations resulted the treaty of Washington. Articles XVIII. to XXV. inclusive, and XXXII. and XXXIII. of the treaty of Washington appertain to the fisheries. By the provisions of these articles citizens of the United States are allowed to take fish of every kind except shell fish along the shores of Canada, and British subjects have equal rights on the coast of the United States north of latitude 39° north, the shad, salmon and other river fisheries being excluded, and some trifling local exceptions in the treaty of 1854 being confirmed. Article XXI, provided for free trade between Canada and the United States in all fishery products save fish of inland lakes and rivers, and fish preserved in oil. It was the theory of the makers of this treaty that the United States was in all particulars the chief beneficiary, and it was consequently provided in articles XXII. and XXIII. that "inasmuch as it is asserted by the government of her Britannic majesty that the privileges accorded to the citizens of the United States are of greater value than those accorded to the subjects of her Britannic majesty," a commission should be appointed to decide upon the amount of compensation which should be paid by the government of the United States for the privileges to them accorded. The commission referred to met in accordance with the provisions of the treaty, at Halifax, N. S., and was in session from June 15 to Nov. 23, 1877. Its members were Mr. Maurice Delfosse, at that time Belgian minister at Washington, Sir Alexander T. Galt for Great Britain, and Hon. Ensign H. Kellogg for the United States. The record of its sessions may be found in 3495 printed pages of the "Documents and Proceedings of the Halifax Commission," vols. i-iii., Washington, 1878. The entire lack of reliable statistics of the fisheries was of course fatal to the cause of the United States, the great mass of irrelevant and contradictory testimony given by fishermen and others summoned before the commission being nearly equally unconvincing and confusing on each side. Canada presented the so-called "official statistics" of its fisheries printed for ten years or more in the reports of the minister of marine and fisheries: these at the time appeared valid and valuable, though the charges since published by Prof. H. Y. Hind show that their accuracy is far from being unimpeachable.*140 The decision of the case rested entirely with the neutral member of the commission, Mr. Delfosse, who without doubt based his action not upon the testimony presented, nor the facts otherwise accessible to him at the time, but upon certain considerations of diplomatic expediency, based upon the previous treaty relations of Great Britain and the United States. He adjudged to Great Britain the sum of $5,500,000, to be paid by the United States in exchange for alleged privileges granted to its fishermen in British waters. This sum was paid in 1878, and the terms of the treaty having been thus fully complied with, the fishermen of the two countries entered upon a mutual participation of fishing territory for a period of twelve years.


—The only important difficulty occurring under this treaty was in January, 1878, when several Gloucester vessels, taking in cargoes of frozen herring at Fortune Bay, N. F., were attacked by the people of the vicinity, their nets cut up, and the crews driven away from the shore. This proceeding was manifestly an interference with American rights under the treaty, and the claim that local laws were being transgressed was quite untenable, such laws being annulled by the treaty. Such was the view taken by the British government, and damages to the amount of £15,000 were awarded, to be divided among the injured herring vessels, the total amount of claims being $105,305.


—The present treaty terminated July 4, 1881, and notice having been given by the United States, its provisions will be invalid after the same date in 1883, when, unless some new arrangement be made, our privileges in British waters will be limited as before, and Canadian fish will no longer pass into our markets free of duty.


—It is impossible in this place to discuss at length the advantages and disadvantages of the existing treaty. They may, however, receive passing allusion. The advantages to the United States were supposed to be twofold: 1, the right to buy bait in provincial ports; 2 participation in the inshore mackerel fishery of the gulf. The first is scarcely worth considering by treaty makers. The advantage to the bait seller is equally as great as to the buyer. Many provincial ports are dependent for livelihood upon trade with American fishing vessels, and only the most short sighted policy on the part of Canada and Newfoundland can exclude the only purchasers from their markets, for every vessel visiting one of their ports expends from $50 to $200. The second "advantage" strangely enough lost its value simultaneously with its acquisition. For half a century previous to the past decade the mackerel fleet of New England was engaged for at least half the season in fishing in the gulf of St. Lawrence, and sometimes several hundred sails at one time were in close proximity to, if not within, the three-mile line. The general adoption of the purse seine resulted in a complete revolution in the mackerel fishery, as is shown in the following table, kindly furnished by Major D. W. Low, of Gloucester:

Table.  Click to enlarge in new window.


The number of vessels and their catch in sea-packed barrels, up to 1880, is from British sources, with exception of catch of 1878 and 1879, which is from reports of Boston fish bureau; 1880 and 1881 was from United States fish commission. The vessel in the gulf in 1882 was the schooner Yankee Lass, of Boston. The market value of some of the mackerel was increased by scraping and messing them by the labor of the crews, extra labor. The cost of catching the mackerel was much greater than the price obtained, making an aggregate loss to those engaged in it.


Notes for this chapter

Prof. Hind's charges of intentional falsification of fishery statistics by the British authorities so widely published, are not sustained by evidence, and should not be entertained for a moment. The hundreds of errors which he has pointed out are evidently the result of inattention on the part of the responsible persons, and of childish incompetency on that of the clerks employed in their preparation.


End of Notes

1041 of 1105

Return to top