The France-Canada Maritime Boundary Dispute
During the 1980s, a dispute developed between Canada and France over the
precise definition of the maritime boundary between their respective
territories in the region. This dispute was generated in part by overlapping
claims to the sea bottom and the mineral resources, such as oil, thought to
found on or under the sea-floor.
Beginning in 1966, both countries began issuing permits to explore for oil
and gas on and around the St. Pierre Bank. In 1967 France and Canada agreed to
a moratorium on exploration until ownership of the resources was resolved, but
continuing arguments were generated by Canadian and French efforts to claim
ever-expanding exclusive fishing zones. Canada declared a 12 nautical mile
(n mi) territorial limit late in 1970, and France followed suit in 1971.
This meant that their territorial sea claims overlapped in the Burin Peninsula
area and impinged upon fishing rights defined by the several treaties signed
between 1713 and 1904.
||A chalutier (trawler) returning to St. Pierre, n.d.
The fishing industry was a big part of the St. Pierre and Miquelon
From Raymond Rallier du Baty, La Pêche sur
les Bancs de Terre-Neuve et autour des Iles de St. Pierre et
Miquelon (Paris: Office Scientifique et Technique des
Pêches Maritimes, 1925) 67.
Consequently, in 1972 an agreement was reached between the two countries to
settle these claims and to restructure their treaty arrangements over fishing.
The agreement not only defined the boundary between the French islands and the
Newfoundland coast but also made a distinction between the access rights of
the metropolitan French fishing fleet and those of the fishermen of St. Pierre
and Miquelon. However, in 1977 Canada claimed a 200 n mi Exclusive Fishing
Zone (EFZ), while France declared a 200 n mi Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),
the difference in the two being that the EEZ also encompassed the mineral
resources issue. Although Canada's position was that St. Pierre and Miquelon
should only be entitled to a 12 n mi offshore zone, the 1972 agreement was
automatically extended to cover French access to the much-expanded Canadian
jurisdictional zone, subject to certain conditions, until a maritime boundary
agreement could be reached.
The principal overlap was in the area south of the French islands,
extending to the St. Pierre Bank, rich in fish and with a potential as well
for oil. Then, in the 1980s, the French catch began to increase despite
Canadian efforts to assign smaller quotas to France in the face of dwindling
stocks. After much friction and wrangling between the two countries, which
included seizures of fishing vessels, recalled ambassadors, and violations
of existing agreements, Canada and France reached agreement in 1988 to
adjudicate the boundary. The quarter-century dispute was resolved in 1992 by
an international court of arbitration. According to the board's decision,
France received an economic zone within a 24-mile limit off St. Pierre and
Miquelon, as well as a 10-.5 mile-wide corridor running south 200 miles
towards international waters. The resulting economic zone, measuring only
3,607 square nautical miles, was much smaller than France had claimed, and
providing accordingly access to much less fish. According to the arbitration
decision, France would have to negotiate with Canada for access to fish
outside its zone.
These were years of severe crisis in the Newfoundland fisheries, caused by
over-exploitation of fish stocks by both Canadian and foreign fishermen, and
the arbitration decision precipitated a short period of considerable tension
between fishermen from Canada and those of St. Pierre and Miquelon. In 1994,
however, Canada and France reached a new agreement regulating the fisheries
which has established a satisfactory modus vivendi.
© 2001, Olaf Uwe Janzen