The United States, Great Britain, and British North America from the Revolution to the Establishment of Peace after the War of 1812

By A. L. Burt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE FISHERIES IN THE PEACE TREATY

UNTIL the present century, disputes over fisheries troubled the relations between Canada and the United States. The difficulty emerged from the American Revolution, though its roots go back another century and a half to the founding of New England. The seventeenth century saw the growth of a race of hardy fishermen, the mainstay of New England's economic life. For generations they played a leading part in developing the fisheries in that ideal region for cod created by the foundering of the northeastern corner of this continent. The American Revolution thrust forward a fundamental and complicated problem for these men to face. On withdrawing from the Empire, they would automatically lose their right as British subjects to share in the British fisheries. The prospective loss was bound to be great, perhaps disastrous; but its exact extent was hard to calculate, for these rights had never been clearly defined.

The best guide to the uncertain maze lies in the treaties of 1713 and 1763, by which the subjects of Britain and France shared the fisheries and the subjects of Spain were entirely excluded. By the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, France recognized British sovereignty over Newfoundland, but her people continued to enjoy, for fishing and drying, the use of the shores of that island north of Cape Bonavista on the east and north of Point Riche on the west. Was this a residual right or a fresh concession? Was the use of this "French Shore," as it came to be called, intended to be exclusive, or was it to be shared with British fishermen? The treaty gave no answer. By that same instrument, for the benefit of New England, Britain forced France to cede Nova Scotia and to renounce all fishing rights within thirty leagues of its shores. Fifty years later the Treaty of Paris, which transferred New France to the British Empire, continued the 1713 provision for fishing and drying on the French Shore as a liberty. By accepting this word, whether she intended it or not, France accepted the British answer to the above questions. This treaty also allowed French subjects the liberty of fishing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the condition that they would not fish within three leagues of any British coast, excepting of course the Newfoundland shore already mentioned. The prohibition to fish within thirty leagues of Nova Scotia was continued by reference to the earlier treaty; and the waters within fifteen leagues of Cape Breton, then ceded, were closed to the French. Neither the Grand Bank of Newfoundland nor any other banks were specifically mentioned, but those within thirty leagues of Nova Scotia or fifteen of

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