The British officially took control of St. Johnís Island in 1763, after the defeat of the French in the Seven Years War. Like their French predecessors, the British recognized the enormous potential of the Islandís fisheries, but were slow to exploit this resource. When Samuel Holland surveyed the Island in 1764, he allocated only two out of 67 Lots for fishing.1 This low priority on fishing was supported by the Islandís first Governor, Walter Patterson. Patterson believed that the Islandís agricultural industry had to be developed first, so that the Island could become self-sufficient.2
By the beginning of the 19th century, the Island fisheries were still very underdeveloped. John Stewart wrote an account of the fisheries at this time in his book An Account of Prince Edward Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, North America, published in London in 1806. Stewart noted how the neglected fisheries had become the domain of American fishermen:
"The fishery carried on from the American states in the Gulph [sic]of St. Lawrence for some years past is very extensive, and is known to be one of the greatest sources of wealth of the eastern states, from which about two thousand schooners of from seventy to one hundred tons, are annually sent into the Gulph [sic] about six hundred make their fares on the north side of the Island, and often make two trips a season. . . the number of men employed in this fishery is estimated at fifteen and twenty thousand, and the profits on it are known to be great."3
For the first half of the 1800's, the Americans had almost complete control of the Islandís fisheries, and Islanders saw very little profit from this arrangement. This is not to say there was never any profit to be made. American sailors often took shelter in Island ports, and would spend their money at local establishments. As well, each year many young Islanders found work as sailors on board ships in the American fleet.4 However, such profits were tiny compared to the rewards gained by the American fishing fleet. For a number of reasons, the Islanders seemed unable to match the Americans.
In 1831, fish exports from PEI were valued at about £1,600 out of total exports worth £42,500. By 1851, the value of fish exports had grown to £6,700, but this compared with total exports of £61,000. And a British naval observer in 1852 reported that "the smallest possible estimate of the value taken away annually from the coast of Prince Edward Island by American fishermen was £100,000."5
All this was to change with the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854.
1. Wells, Kennedy. The Fishery of Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown: Ragweed Press, 1986. (98-99)
2. Ibid., 100
3. Stewart, John. An Account of Prince Edward Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, North America. (296-297)
4. Wells, Kennedy. The Fishery of Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown: Ragweed Press, 1986. (115-116)
5. Ibid., 120