North America, Saint Pierre and Miquelon
harbor activities, Queen Anne's War, departmentalization, French citizenship, French revolutionary wars
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, territorial collectivity of France, in the North Atlantic Ocean south of the coast of the island of Newfoundland, Canada. It consists of two small groups of islands, with an area of 242 sq km (93 sq mi). The main islands are Saint-Pierre, Miquelon, and Langlade, the latter two connected by the low, sandy Isthmus of Langlade. A relatively mild maritime climate prevails. The islands are mostly barren and rocky but are important for cod fishing. The leading exports are fish, shellfish, fish meal, and fox and mink pelts. Tourism is also important. The French franc is the legal currency (7.12 francs equal U.S.$1; 2000 annual average) The capital is Saint-Pierre, on the southernmost island of the same name, where about 90 percent of the collectivity's residents live. Total population in 2002 was 6,954. The overall population density was 29 persons per sq km (74 per sq mi).
The islands' inhabitants, largely descended from French settlers, possess full French citizenship. French language and customs prevail, and the majority of inhabitants are Roman Catholic. The dependency is governed by an appointed prefect representing the president of France and a popularly elected general council of 19 members, who serve five-year terms. The islands are represented in the French National Assembly by one senator and one deputy. As the last remaining French holding in North America, the islands are heavily subsidized by the French government. The government employs approximately one-half of the islands' working population, and pays for electricity, water, and health care, in addition to sponsoring cultural events.
The Portuguese explorer Joao Alvares Fagundes is believed to have sighted the islands in 1520. The first permanent settlement was made by French fishers in 1604. In 1713, following a British victory in Queen Anne's War, France ceded Saint-Pierre and Miquelon to Great Britain. By the Treaty of Paris of 1763 the islands were returned to France. Thirty years later, during the French revolutionary wars, they were seized by Britain but were permanently restored to France by the Treaty of Paris in 1814. During World War II (1939-1945), the Free French troops of General Charles de Gaulle occupied the islands.
In 1976 the islands became the overseas department of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Many residents opposed departmentalization, as it effectively incorporated the territory's economy into that of the European Community (now called the European Union), and failed to consider the islands' unique features, such as their relative isolation and dependence on Canada. That same year, Canada imposed an economic interest zone extending about 370 km (about 230 mi) around the islands. Fearing the loss of traditional fishing areas, the French government then claimed a similar zone around Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Tension developed between France and Canada over coastal limits. In June 1985 the French government gave Saint-Pierre and Miquelon the status of territorial collectivity.
In 1987 the dispute on coastal limits was handed over to international arbitrators and negotiations were also held on French fishing quotas in the region. The latter issue was successfully negotiated in 1989, and an agreement on fishing rights extending through 1991 was signed by both governments. In 1991 the tribunal began deliberations on the maritime boundaries of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Their ruling, issued in June 1992, was generally considered in Canada's favor, as France was granted less than one quarter of the area it had formerly claimed. Members of both governments met later that year to negotiate new fishing quotas, but talks failed, and industrial fishing in the area off the islands was effectively halted. An international moratorium on cod fishing, imposed by the Canadian government in order to protect endangered stocks, disabled the islands' fishing industry starting in 1993. The ban increased unemployment and caused a major decline in harbor activities.
Although financial pressures have led the French government to impose budgetary restrictions on the islands, France has also helped to offset the economic hardship resulting from the fishing crisis. In addition to helping subsidize fishing workers, the French government has sponsored development projects, such as the construction of a new airport in the archipelago. In December 1994 a new agreement on fishing rights was signed by the French and Canadian governments; the agreement covered a 10-year period.
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