The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Fisheries Question

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Edition of 1920. See also Treaty of 1818 on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

FISHERIES QUESTION. The provinces of British North America in 1760-76 enjoyed mutual fishing rights on the entire North Atlantic coast, but when the Revolution severed Canada from the rest of the seaboard, Great Britain proposed to deny the United States the right to fish there, on the ground of Canadian opposition. As this meant ruin to a great New England industry, the Canadian waters being the cream of the fishing grounds, John Adams refused to sign the Treaty of Paris (7 Sept. 1783) until the right was granted, though his fellow commissioners would have sacrificed them; and his stubbornness secured their retention. Fishing could still go on; but we could not dry or cure fish on the coast of Newfoundland, or the settled coasts or river-banks of Nova Scotia, the Magdalen Islands or Labrador, except by agreement with the inhabitants. Under these provisions, the energetic American fishermen occupied many excellent fishing stations along the Canada shore, to the envy and dissatisfaction of the British; and when the War of 1812 broke out, the latter seized the opportunity to declare the Treaty of Paris abrogated, and order the Canadian officials to refuse American fishermen access to the grounds. The Americans declared the fishery provisions of the treaty unavoidable. The Treaty of Ghent, of 1814, ignored this question, as it did so much else of vital import, and the subject of the fisheries was left open as an unsettled subject of difference, or, as Henry Clay put it, “as a nest-egg for another war.” Collision and friction arose relative to the inshore fisheries; in 1816, 1817 and 1818 American fishing vessels were seized in the Bay of Fundy. After prolonged negotiations, a treaty was entered into at London which revised the fishery provisions, and under which American rights were curtailed; the United States were to have the right of fishing only in deep sea waters at least three miles from shore, except in certain specified areas off the eastern, western and southern coast of Newfoundland and the Magdalens and Labrador, and the right to dry and cure fish was limited to a small part of the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. They were, however, to be able to enter bays and harbors for wood or water or for refuge. The three-mile provision proved a bone of contention. Great Britain claiming that the three-mile limit must be measured from the headlands of the “bays,” and she pointed to the maps published at the time of the treaty, with the waters in dispute marked as “bays.” The United States, on the other hand, contended that the “bays” must be confined to small indentations, and that the three marine miles must be measured from a line following the sinuosities of the coast. In 1845 Lord Aberdeen, at that time British Foreign Secretary, offered as a “relaxation” from the full rights of Great Britain to open the Bay of Fundy to American fishermen, and this was done; but the American government declined to accept as a favor what they demanded as a treaty right, and pressed for an extension which the British government, urged thereto by Nova Scotia, refused, and both parties thereupon reverted to the strict letter of their rights. Another question also arose, as to the right of Great Britain to control the fisheries by local laws and regulations. Finally, the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 abolished all mutual restrictions on deep-sea fishing except for shellfish. The United States abrogated this treaty in 1866, and conditions reverted to those of 1818, but the Treaty of Washington in 1871, to take effect in 1873, revived it again in full down to lat. 39° N. The Canadians, however, asserted that their waters were much the more valuable, and on arbitration provided for in the treaty, they were awarded $5,500,000 in 1877, on a claim of $14,280,000. In 1885 the United States abrogated the reciprocity provision of the treaty of 1871, under pressure from fishing interests, and returned to the 1818 status with its disputed meanings. Our fishing vessels were seized as before and a period of acute tension ensued. In 1887 Congress authorized the President at his discretion to lay an embargo on all Canadian commerce to American ports, which, however, has not been done. In 1888 the Chamberlain-Bayard Treaty arranged these difficulties, but the Senate rejected it; a modus vivendi, however, was reached in the same year. A joint high commission to settle the question met in Washington in 1899, but adjourned without coming to a decision. By a treaty of January 1909 the questions in dispute were referred to The Hague Tribunal, which assembled on 1 June 1910, the award being issued on 7 September. The tribunal of arbitration was chosen from the general list of members of the permanent court at The Hague, Dr. H. Lammasch, professor of international law at the University of Vienna, presiding. George Grey, judge of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals, was the American representative, and Sir Charles Fitzpatrick, chief justice of Canada, represented Great Britain. On the important “headland theory,” the verdict was mainly in accord with the British contention, but no principle applicable to all bays was laid down. On the question of Great Britain's right to regulate the fisheries in dispute, the answer of the tribunal effected a compromise. The abstract right was conceded as in her favor, but she was forced to agree to the appointment of a commission of experts to pass her regulations in order that American fishermen may be protected from unfair and discriminatory legislation. Thus was brought to an end an irritating and vexatious controversy, which for upward of a century had from time to time threatened the peaceful relations existing between Great Britain and the United States. Consult ‘The United States and the North-Eastern Fisheries’ (Minneapolis 1887); and Wormwith, W. B., ‘The North Atlantic Coast Fishery Disputes’ (in ‘Canada and Its Provinces,’ Toronto 1914).