Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Scott W. See

Second Committee Member

Richard Judd

Third Committee Member

Jacques Ferland


Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the North Atlantic Ocean was the scene of intense disputes between diverse fishing interests. Fishermen came into violent conflict with one another, politicians on both sides of the North American border called for defense if not open war, and fisheries scientists and diplomats initiated new agendas for fishery management that challenged traditional assumptions of jurisdictional authority. All of these factors contributed to the emergences of new ideas concerning environmental territorialism in the North Atlantic. Fishermen, politicians, scientists, and diplomats from around the Atlantic world campaigned for a role in structuring managerial policy. Although many historians interpret this conflict as one between American and Canadian fishermen, this dissertation argues that the national policies as articulated by national politicians in both the United States and Canada did not reflect the territorialism demonstrated by the fishermen. Instead, fishermen structured their understanding of proper stewardship according to modes of production. Through an examination of petitions, court cases, government documents, and agency studies this dissertation examines these conflicting claims of authority in the North Atlantic fisheries. It explores cross-border migration of fishing labor, smuggling between fishermen in the borderseas, the development of national and scientific policies for fishery management in both the United States and Canada, conflicts between inshore and off-shore fishermen in the North Atlantic, successful and failed diplomatic maneuvers by policymakers in Washington, Ottawa, and London, and the creation of a legal framework for fishery management. It demonstrates that although governments attempted to structure jurisdiction according to national goals and boundaries, local resource users enforced a territorial authority based on their own conclusions. These local fishermen focused their critique on those who utilized more extensive means of production, while governing agencies sought to limit interaction between nationally defined fishing operations. The dissertation examines how these conflicting claims emerged and came into direct conflict with one another between the signing of the Convention of 18 18 and the decision of The Hague International Court of Arbitration in 19 10. This period illustrates the gradual replacement of local stewardship in fisheries policy by government actions shaped by non-local policymakers. The exportation of resource management into the hands of those who did not possess an intimate knowledge of the fisheries environment, but who claimed to have a more advanced or scientific understanding of the resource, set the foundation for massive exploitation of fishing stocks beyond maximum sustainable yield. Thus, the cause of overexploitation, as this dissertation argues, was more philosophical than technological in nature.

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