Mr. Steele to Mr. Bayard.
Sir: I take the liberty to write to you in regard to the present relation of American fisheries with England and her provinces.
I first desire to call attention to the reciprocity treaty of 1854, during which the Government paid fisherman a bounty of $4 per ton, which was an assistance to us, and helped in part offset the remittance of duties on foreign fish during that period.
During the treaty of Washington, which expired by limitation, we received no bounty from our Government, that having been abolished in 1866, and we felt the effect of the second reciprocity treaty more than the one covering the years 1854 to 1866 inclusive.[Page 502]
We have no occasion to regret the action of the Government in allowing the treaty of Washington to expire by limitation, and we are also pleased at the action of the House of Representatives in granting the President the power to deny to foreign nations the same commercial rights denied us in their ports.
If it is the pleasure of the President to use that power, I think it would meet the approval of every person interested in the fishing business, both the property owner and the individual fisherman, but if this power to pass retaliatory measures the President does not see fit to use, we earnestly beg that the settlement of so important a matter will not be left with ministers or commissioners to arbitrate on our existing fishery rights or make new treaty definitions, because we have seen that diplomacy is untrained in commercial affairs, and incapable of appreciating the business and commercial effects following contracts concerning them, and we know that long or permanent contracts on such subjects are a mere gambling with interests where consequences can rarely be foreseen at the time they are made.
We have an invincible dread that in such negotiations in the future as in the past our interests would be sacrificed to Canadian interests.
We think the powers Congress has delegated to the President are enough for the protection of our right to trade with Canadian ports, if he use them with his usual firmness and sense of justice. Should he be reluctant to do this, still we do not desire to obtain privileges of trade by another treaty. We prefer to accept the present situation, even if more seizures and more exclusion from Canadian ports are practiced on our vessels touching there for trade. We had better lose twenty vessels or even fifty, than that we should enter into another such treaty with England.
We know full well that Canada would use any and all means, no matter how barbarous, to drive our Government into a reciprocity treaty again, and we think this is the object of her present conduct.
We thank you for furnishing counsel to look after the individual interests at the trial of these cases in the admiralty court at Halifax, as no individual ought to be compelled to bear the burden of cases of this nature in foreign courts.
I desire to bring to your attention that the mackerel fleet of the United States will sail from about the 15th of June to July 1, for the eastward; a few have already gone.
The Canadians have a fleet of cruisers as they say to guard their three-mile limit from the intrusion of our craft, but as we think to prey on our vessels without regard to the distance of three miles from the shores. Owners here instruct their masters to keep out of the three-mile limit in good faith. It is American property that is at risk and the American right on the high seas, outside of the three-mile question, that is to be guarded from encroachment.
The “men-of-war” of the United States should be at hand to protect our flag, our citizens and their property.
What are the spoils derived from the confiscation and dividing of the prey of half a dozen bait-buying smacks entering their ports, compared to the chances of capture among three to five hundred sail of mackerelmen who may lawfully fish within a fathom outside of the three-mile limit, and on whom Canadian law devolves the burden of proof, that where they lay was more than three miles? Whilst by the same law the seizure is primary proof that the prize was within the three-mile limit. If a hundred sail were in sight at the seizure, what means has the arrested master to ascertain their names to obtain their testimony [Page 503] in a prize court? We are content to live by the three-mile limit honestly construed; but the Government should protect us in our lawful side of it, and secure to us an honest construction of the treaty clause.
This extract from a letter in the Boston Herald of June 4, 1886, written from Cape Breton, shows the animus of the provincials:
Three American mackerel seiners passed through the straits this morning hound for North Bay. They will he closely watched by the Howlett and customs officers. The moiety on a seizure would amount to at least $2,000, and every person in authority on the coast lies awake nights thinking how he can make an arrest of some unlucky Yankee fisherman. If sufficient ground is given there is not a doubt but what seizures will be made, as the bounty is a very substantial incentive outside of the credit to be gained therefrom. Yankees will do well to be cautious and avoid “the appearance of evil.”
If a duty of 1 cent per pound could be put upon fresh and salt fish the Canadians would stop their overt acts and be brought to a realizing sense of the commercial rights of nations, quicker than any other way.
The fact is Canada has nothing whatever that she can compensate us with, for the privilege of the markets of the United States free for her fish.
Canada is fighting from business motives and nothing more, and if she succeeds in bullying the United States into any agreement by which she can bring in her fish free, said fish untaxed and bounty-fed with fishing grounds in close proximity, while we are heavily taxed, it would not take more than ten or twelve years to wipe out the Atlantic fisheries.
As well to allow English men-of-war to enter our ports and destroy our vessels and other property, as for us to see the humiliating spectacle of our fishing industry passing under the control of the English flag, through the default of our Government, an industry that all other Governments afford ample protection.
My own personal experience as owner of twelve fishing vessels; an experience in this business, on this coast, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, on the Newfoundland coast, and on the Grand and Western Banks, directly and indirectly since the year 1848, proves to me conclusively that in what I have here written I voice the sentiments of every man in the fishing business, whether owner or fisherman.
I am, respected sir, yours, very respectfully,