Dalhousie Law Journal

Article Title

The One that Got Away: Fishery Reserves in Prince Edward Island


In 1767, the British government divided Prince Edward Island into sixty-seven townships of about 20,000 acres each, and allocated all but one of these to about one hundred people who had some claim on the Crown's munificence. Subsequently, Island governments complained of their disadvantaged state in comparison with other British North American colonies, which could raise revenue by selling rights to Crown land and resources. Their complaints, although not totally unjustified, did not acknowledge the extensive and valuable lands which the Crown retained as fishery reserves. Most of the township grants reserved rights to the first 500 feet of land above the high water mark, to facilitate pursuit of the fishery. Debates about the nature and extent of the reserves were part of the long struggle to end the concentration of land ownership in the hands of owners of large estates, and to convert leaseholds to freeholds. After the Island government finally acquired the power to purchase the large proprietary estates, for resale as small freeholds to tenants and settlers, it began to acquiesce in the occupiers' possession of the fishery reserves. Ultimately, it did not attempt to maintain its rights in these for the public.