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Canada’s nineteenth-century fisheries have long been overshadowed by the renown, financial successes, and nationalist proclivity of New England’s offshore banks fisheries. While Canadian scholars such as Sean Cadigan and Rosemary Ommer have characterized Atlantic Canada’s fisheries as underdeveloped and isolated from larger industrial influence, Harold Innis and Brian Payne have analyzed them along national lines, based on the national flag of the vessels involved.
Using information memorializing fishermen lost at sea in the Gloucester fisheries between 1869 and 1908, a new picture emerges that questions just how under-developed Canadian fisheries were, and just how “American” their rival’s operations turned out to be. These data indicate that a vast majority of fishermen working in Gloucester’s salt schooner fisheries hailed, at least by birth, from Atlantic Canada. Working on Gloucester vessels during the season then returning home, these individuals highlight how “transboundaried” Gloucester’s fisheries had become by the late nineteenth century.
Such fluidity forces us to reconsider Canada’s influence in the nineteenth-century northwest Atlantic fisheries. With Americans willing to risk hard-to-come-by capital in the fishing business, Atlantic Canadians were happy to enjoy the jobs, proceeds, connections, and access to markets American vessels provided. Indeed, one might argue that with American vessels ranging from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Banquereau, Misaine, Green, and Grand Banks—as well as others off Nova Scotia—Canadian communities realized the best of both worlds: employment without capital risk, right off their own home shores.
Canadian prominence among Gloucester’s schooner fishermen also begs a reconsideration of the twentieth-century fisheries, from international tensions to the severing of these ties by both nations establishing their EEZ’s in 1976. What is clear, however, is that Canadian fishermen used the fisheries’ industrial organization in ways as of yet unexplored. We need to rethink these people and the world they created.