The Secretary of State to the Minister in Canada (Phillips)

No. 225

Sir: For a number of years the Department has received complaints from the State of Vermont regarding seine fishing for pike-perch, the most valuable fish in the lake, and other game fish in the Canadian waters connected with Lake Champlain, more particularly in the Missisquoi Bay and River. The State of New York has complained of the same practice during the spawning season, more particularly in the Missisquoi Bay and River and the Richelieu River waters. These Canadian waters are said to be the principal grounds to which the Lake Champlain pike-perch and other game fish migrate to spawn.

Various attempts have been made to settle this question, which arises from the fact that a few fishermen in Canada appear at present to be interested in wholesale commercial fishing while the Americans concerned are interested in rod and line fishing for sportsmen. It [Page 38] is believed that the present conflict of interests is not fundamental, since the Canadian waters connected with Lake Champlain are presumably as susceptible to development for rod and line sport fishing and the opening up of summer colonies along the Canadian shores as are the American waters and shores of the lake. It is believed that an abundance of game fish in the lake to attract large numbers of rod and line anglers will be of much greater economic value to the people directly concerned, in both countries, than the taking of these fish wholesale for commercial purposes by a few fishermen, to the detriment of those interested in summer recreation and angling. A sounder economic development accompanies the attraction of a large number of summer visitors to an area through hotels, resorts and real estate developments around good fishing grounds, than could possibly result from the commercial exploitation by a few fishermen of the game fish in such a small lake fishery.

There are enclosed for your confidential information and guidance copies of letters of June 25, 1923, August 20, 1923, February 18, 27, 29 and March 23, 1928, from the Honorable Frank L. Greene, United States Senator from Vermont.16 There are also enclosed copies of confidential reports of the American Consul at Montreal, Canada, dated June 2, 1923, and March 23, 1926.16 So that you will be advised of past negotiations, I am enclosing copies of the note of April 13, 1926, from this Government to the British Ambassador, the reply thereto of June 7, 1926, and a note from this Government to the Canadian Minister of March 1, 1927, and the reply thereto of March 22, 1927.17

The Honorable Frank L. Greene has taken up the matter again this year with the Department, in the four 1928 letters referred to above, with the request that effective action be taken to secure the settlement of this long-standing question.

The principal contentions of the United States are:

  • First, that the waters of Lake Champlain are stocked with pike-perch and other game fish by the United States Government fish hatchery at Swanton, Vermont, in cooperation with the fisheries department of the State of Vermont for the sole purpose of providing fish for rod and line sportsmen. It is manifestly unfair for the Canadians to seine these fish for commercial purposes, particularly just before and during the spawning season when they migrate to the Canadian waters connected with Lake Champlain, and sell them wholesale mostly in the American market. As the work of building up the Lake Champlain region as a fishing resort is being largely nullified by seine fishing in the Canadian waters connected with the [Page 39] lake, the feasibility of continuing fish cultural operations in the Lake Champlain waters in this country is questionable. It chiefly results in maintaining a small commercial fishery for a few Canadian fishermen, who operate to the detriment of all others in Canada and the United States interested in the much greater project of the development of the lake as a summer resort region. A continuation of the present seine fishing in Canadian waters may result in much of the attractiveness of the whole section being destroyed both from the standpoint of summer resort developments and commercial fishing.
  • Second, that licensed seine fishing in the Canadian waters connected with Lake Champlain permits a wholesale destruction of pike-perch and other game fish life. It is believed that it would be desirable to prohibit licensed seining as was done by the Canadian Order in Council No. 376 of February 18, 1918, which, however, was rescinded by an Order in Council of March 1, 1922.
  • Third, that there is unlicensed seining in such waters throughout the entire pike-perch and other game fish spawning and fishing season during and after the licensed seine fishing season, which is so detrimental to the pike-perch and other game fish that it should be stopped.
  • Fourth, that Canadian fishermen, in violation of the laws of the State of Vermont, draw their seines into the American waters of Lake Champlain, landing their catch on Canadian shores.

The fact that the Canadian Government does not admit that seine fishing takes place during the spawning season of the pike-perch and other game fish would indicate the necessity for a joint, scientific investigation with a view to reaching an agreement on the facts. Our existing friendly relationship with our neighbor to the north is far too valuable to permit a difference of this nature to be the basis of a growing controversy. The feeling on the subject in the State of New York is already expressed in that section of its conservation law which provides that no person shall transport into that State, or possess, any fish caught in that portion of Lake Champlain or its tributaries known as Missisquoi bay lying and being in the province of Quebec, or the Richelieu river, which is the outlet of said lake, at any time. (New York Conservation Law, Laws of 1911 as amended to 1926, Article V, Chapter 647, Part XII, Section 370.)

It is with a view to ascertaining all the facts relating to these complaints, the period of the spawning season and the effect of this seine fishing upon the pike-perch and other game fishing in Lake Champlain, that a joint, scientific, fact-finding investigation by the Canadian and American fisheries authorities is proposed.

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The Department of Commerce has indicated its desire to cooperate in such a scientific investigation by appointing a representative from the Bureau of Fisheries to cooperate with the Canadian representative. An effective fact-finding investigation can be conducted in Canadian waters only with the full cooperation of the Dominion authorities.

It is my earnest desire that this question be investigated and settled upon its individual merits, as a separate matter. It is my firm belief that tangible results can best be secured by concentrating upon the settlement of a single fisheries problem, as is evidenced by the success of the present convention with respect to halibut fisheries in the North Pacific.18 An attempt to deal with all the fisheries questions which might be suggested could only result in a confusion of issues, which might defeat the realization of an effective settlement.

It is apparent from the Canadian Order in Council No. 376 dated February 18, 1918, a copy of which will be found in the enclosures of this instruction,19 that the Canadian Government, as distinguished from the Government of the Province of Quebec, has jurisdiction over this fisheries question. It is believed that the proposed investigation can be conducted better by representatives of the Dominion Government of Canada and the Federal Government of the United States, rather than by representatives of the Province of Quebec and the States of New York and Vermont.

You will please communicate with the Secretary of State for External Affairs in the sense of the foregoing and inquire whether the Canadian Government is willing to designate a representative of the Department of Merchant Marine and Fisheries to cooperate with a representative of the United States Bureau of Fisheries in a joint, scientific, fact-finding investigation to determine the facts relating to the pike-perch and other game fish spawning seasons and the extent and effect of seine fishing during that season in Missisquoi bay and river and Richelieu river upon the pike-perch and other game fish in Lake Champlain, all with a view to effecting an equitable solution of this long-standing problem. It is proposed that the joint, scientific, fact-finding commission be instructed to submit a report to the two governments of their findings, with specific recommendations regarding a permanent solution of the problem upon the basis of cooperative conservation measures.

Inasmuch as the 1928 fishing season has already begun, it is the desire of this Government that this investigation be undertaken at the earliest possible moment so that the collection of scientific data [Page 41] may be undertaken during the 1928 fishing season. Please transmit a report to me of the results of your negotiations as soon as you are in a position to do so.

I am [etc.]

Frank B. Kellogg
  1. None printed.
  2. None printed.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1927, vol. i, pp. 511, 513, 514, 515.
  4. Treaty of March 2, 1923, Foreign Relations, 1923, vol. i, p. 468.
  5. For text of Canadian Order in Council, see the Canada Gazette, vol. 51, p. 2858.