Prince Edward Island, seaweed, farmers, fertilizer, sea, shore, litigation, legislation, property rights
In the nineteenth century, before farmers could purchase inexpensive chemical fertilizers, farmers on Prince Edward Island looked to the sea and the shore for nutrients to add to their soils. When disputes over who had the right to gather seaweed led to litigation, judges ruled that the owners of property fronting on the shore had the exclusive right to seaweed cast up on the shore, both above and belot, the high water mark. These rulings did little to dispel the popular perception that seaweed, a gift of nature, was a common resource that belonged to the people who collected it. Repeated attempts to settle the matter with legislation produced much talk about what property rights the law should uphold, and why, but ultimately, most Island legislators, as well as colonial administrators in London, proved unwilling to support legislation that might interfere with private property rights protected by the common law.
Rusty Bittermann and Margaret McCallum, "Common Resource or Private Right: Contested Claims to Seaweed in 19th Century Prince Edward Island" (2014) 37:1 Dal LJ 233.