European Migratory Fishery
The first Europeans to frequent the northeastern region of
North America were not settlers, but fishers. Newfoundland with
its adjacent waters was originally viewed as a cod fishery, a
useful and increasingly important supplement to fisheries carried
on in European waters.
From George Brown Goode, The Fisheries and Fishery Industry of the United States, (Washington, D.C.: Washington Government Printing Office, 1884), plate 58A. Drawing by H. L. Todd.
From the early 16th century, fishing ships
sailed to Newfoundland from France, Spain and Portugal each
spring, returning in the fall with their catch of salted codfish.
The island, with southern Labrador where Spanish Basques caught
whales, was an extension of Europe, a fishing station.
Late in the 16th century the Iberian fisheries at Newfoundland
declined. Their place was taken by ships from the southwestern
counties of England. As a result, the 17th century Newfoundland
fishery came to be divided between France and England. The
fisheries were economically important to both countries, and they
were also thought to be a vital component of national strength
because they trained seamen. As an English merchant put it in
A brave desseigne it is, as Royall as
Reall; as honourable as profitable. It promiseth
renowne to the king, revenue to the Crowne,
treasure to the kingdom, a purchase for the land,
a prize foe the sea, ships for navigation,
navigation for ships, mariners for both,
entertainment of the rich, employment for the
poore, advantage for adventurers, and encrease of
trade to all the subjects.
(Edward Misselden, The Circle of Commerce, 1623)
Control of the Newfoundland fisheries was therefore an issue
in the wars between Britain and France which began in the late
17th century. The result was a formal division of the fishery.
Britain assumed sovereignty over the island in 1713, and by 1763
over all Acadia, Cape Breton and Canada, together with their
fisheries. France retained the right to fish in season on the
French Shore, and was ceded
the nearby islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon as a base
for fishing on the banks.
Englishmen dominated the Newfoundland fishery during the 18th
century. Migratory fishing ships still sailed back and forth, but
increasingly merchants purchased fish from resident planters,
settlers who had made Newfoundland their home, and sold them
goods in return. Warfare stimulated this trend until, by the end
of the Anglo-French wars in 1815, the fishery was almost totally
in the hands of Newfoundland settlers. The English migratory
fishery had disappeared in the face of the colonial society it
had created. The French migratory fishery, however, continued
into the 20th century.
©1997, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site Project