1846 – Report on the French fisheries established at St. Pierre

Report on the French fisheries established at St. Pierre, in Newfoundland, prepared by direction of the honorable the collector of her Majesty’s customs, 1846.

It will be seen by the following statement that notwithstanding the premiums and bounties granted by the French government have been diminished, their fishery has increased.

The five years’ average of fish taken, say 1831 to 1835 inclusive, at the French shore, on the banks and in the neighborhood of St. Pierre and Miquelon, did not exceed 300,000 quintals, which in 1835 was thus disposed of:

  • 27,000 was sent to Spain, Portugal, and Italy.
  • 40,000 nearly was sent to the French colonies in the West Indies.
  • 170,000 consumed in France; and
  • 63,000 sent to France in a green state and re-exported.
  • 300,000 quintals.

The amount of premiums, drawbacks, and bounties granted in support of the French fisheries in 1835 was £883,900 sterling, or nearly 20,000,000 francs. Premiums from 100 to 500, and in many instances so high as 1,000 francs a man, were granted. The number of fishermen employed was 6,200.

The bounty on fish re-exported from France to the French colonies in the-West Indies was 40 francs (33s. 4d.) a quintal. It was shortly after that period reduced, and now remains at 24 francs. On fish sent direct to foreign ports in the Mediterranean a bounty of 12 francs (10s.) is paid; and on re-exportation from France to foreign ports, or in crossing the frontier by land into Spain, 10 francs, (8s. 4d.) The largest premium granted a French fisherman does not at present, in any instance, exceed 150 francs.

  • In the year 1845 the number of French vessels which arrived at St. Pierre was …. 197 Vessels 28,750 Tons
  • Foreign vessels arriving at St. Pierre, 1845 – – 119 Vessels
  • Total arriving at St. Pierre …. 316 Vessels
  • Values of cargoes £ 49,538
  • The number of French vessels engaged fishing on the banks, and baited at St. Pierre, in 1845, 1,675 tons; 2,601 men.
  • The quantity of fish taken by French vessels on the banks alone, and baited at St. Pierre, in 1845, was 208,900 quintals.

Caught in the neighborhood of St. Pierre and Miquelon 48,000

  • Total – – – 256,900

The fish taken on the French shore is not included in the above quantity of 256,900 quintals; but it will be seen that the fishery at St. Pierre in 1845 was only 43,100 quintals short of the whole catch, including the French shore, in 1835.
Of the last mentioned quantity (48,000 quintals) taken in the neighborhood of St. Pierre and Miquelon, nearly one-half was taken on the British fishing-ground. The catch, as regards the fishery at St. Pierre, in 1845, was thus disposed of:

  • 48,000 was sent to the French colonies in the West Indies. 119,000 consumed in France.
  • 68,000 sent to France in a green state and re-exported; and
  • 31,900 to Spain, Portugal, and Italy.
  • 256,900 quintals.

The quantity of herring supplied the French in 1845, and used as bait on the banks—say:

  • 25 vessels, taking each on an average 110 barrels – 2,730
  • 25 vessels, taking each on an average 100 barrels – 2,500
  • 25 vessels, taking each on an average 80 barrels – 2,040
  • 29 vessels, taking each on an average 69 barrels – 2,000
  • 104 vessels. 9,270 barrels.

The quantity of capelan taken to the banks and used as bait is, as compared with herrings, in the proportion of a hogshead to a barrel—one hogshead of capelan being equivalent to one barrel of herrings; thus, the quantity of capelan consumed by the French on the banks in 1845 was 9,270 hogsheads, or 20,858 barrels; to which must be added 4,000 barrels used on the shore fishery, making in the whole 24,858 barrels.

For many seasons past, until 1846,-the quantity of capelan annually supplied to the French islands by our fishermen was not less than 20,000 barrels. Up to the first of July last, capelan was in abundance at St. Pierre and Miquelon—a very unusual circumstance, which is attributed to a prevalence of southerly and easterly winds. It was not, therefore, in demand at St. Pierre up to that date; and subsequently, from our being in the neighborhood of Lamaline, not more than 300 hogsheads were conveyed to St. Pierre from our shore. The consequence was, four or five of their first-class bankers were entirely deprived of bait, and I am informed that they were only enabled to proceed to the banks late in July on obtaining a supply of squids from our people.

The sums paid for bait at St. Pierre in 1845, was for herrings £6,950, and for capelan nearly £5,000. The former cost on an average 15s., the latter 5s. per barrel; and not less than £2,800 was paid for firewood— the quantity sold was 3,200 cords, at 17s. 6d. per cord. These amounts, making in the whole £13,750, were mostly paid in cash, and the greater part of them eventually expended at St. Pierre in the purchase of dutiable articles. I may here observe, that along the line of coast extending from Burin to Harbor Britain, a distance of one hundred miles and upwards, there is not at present a single mercantile establishment. This is easily accounted for. The planters and settlers residing on that line, instead of taking their supplies from the merchants as heretofore, have opened a new source of supply for themselves. They trade directly to St. Pierre, and find a tempting and profitable remuneration for their industry. They supply the French with bait and firewood, and are enabled m return to provide themselves not only with money, but with every article necessary for their household consumption, at a much cheaper rate than the established merchants, who had paid the import duty, could afford. In this manner, the French have in a few years secured to themselves almost the entire trade of that part of the coast, to the serious injury of the revenue and demoralization of the people.

As you are aware that this trade is mostly carried on in open boats, not registered, you will at once perceive what facilities this affords for an illicit intercourse. These boats not being registered, are not named, neither are their owners known at the customhouse: so that, when questioned by a preventive officer, they have only to give a false name—say they are from St. Pierre, with so and so on board, and that they are bound to such a place. Thus they escaped detection; for, on inquiry at the harbor to which they stated they were proceeding, you find that no such craft has been there, and that the parties are unknown. This is an evil to which it is desirable that our local legislature should, if possible, apply a remedy i Ins illicit trade is conducted on a cautious principle. Two boats, the property of different owners, and two crews, join in a speculation; one boat and crew is kept trading to St. Pierre with such bait as the of the boat and crew can procure in their absence. The boat selected as the trader is in most instances of little worth. Both boats are valued, and in the event of loss or capture of the trader, her value is placed to the debit of the undertaking.

During the past season, there is not one instance where the export duty on herring or capelan was paid voluntarily, and in no instance was duty received on the cargo of any boat that had not been previously visited by a preventive officer. Even when herrings at St. Pierre commanded forty and forty five francs per barrel, every stratagem was resorted to in order to evade payment of the duty.

Were I not aware that the duty of three shillings per hundred weight on capeian was imposed not so much for the purpose of the revenue, as a means of relieving our fishery from the injury consequent on our fishermen selling to their rivals so large a quantity of that description of bait, I would have ventured to propose its reduction. Of the injurious consequences attending this practice 1 think no doubt can be entertained when it is known that for many seasons, until the last, the quantity of capelan supplied the French from Lameline was from 2,500 to 3,000 hogsheads and that this season not more than 10J hogsheads was so disused of from that place. The result to our fishery has been the best voyage in mat neighborhood for many years past.

The merchants residing at St Pierre are, I believe, favorably disposed to a moderate duty on herring and capelan, and that the duty should be secured by a British officer to reside at that place. I am given to understand that an offer to that effect will be made. It appears to me that such an order should be received with extreme caution, for I am fully persuaded hat the traffic would then centre at Miquelon. The bait would be taken in English craft and from thence to St. Pierre in French boats. Miquelon, it may be well to observe, is a town of increasing importance, situated from St. Pierre about twenty miles.

In protecting the coast from Lameline to Fortune, a distance of about twenty-five miles, which comprises nearly the whole «f the coves and harbors from whence capelan is taken and carried to St. Pierre, we received no assistance from the officer and party of seamen detached from her Majesty’s ship « Alarm, » and stationed at Lameline. I annex a copy of Captain Frankland’s instructions to the officer in charge, which he (Captain Frankland) explained to the commandant at St. Pierre in my presence.

Admitting that two-thirds of the quantity of herrings supplied the French islands paid duty, one-fourth the capelan, and a moiety of the goods imported from St. Pierre, the revenue would derive a benefit of at least £3,000, not taking into account the light duties, which, to a large amount, are now evaded.


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