During the early 1880s the Newfoundland salt-fish trade was in trouble as the product's market value declined. A principal cause was increased competition from Norwegian and French fishermen, the latter heavily subsidized by the French government. Although Newfoundland could not affect the Norwegian fishery, the local government felt it could influence the French.
The Grand Banks fishery was the largest French operation in Newfoundland waters, requiring fresh bait generally purchased from Newfoundland fishermen on the south coast. The government that took office in 1885 decided to use bait as a lever to reduce French competition in foreign markets by prohibiting the sale of bait to French fishermen if subsidization continued.
The first Bait Act was introduced in 1886, but Britain refused to give the necessary assent until it was modified in 1887. This Act and subsequent variations did not noticeably curtail the French, who found alternative supplies. During the 1890s and the early 20th century, Newfoundland tried to use Bait Act provisions to control the sale of bait to Canadian and American fishermen. The Acts did not solve Newfoundland's economic problems, and the colony returned to seeking solutions in railway development and industrialization. Various Newfoundland governments continued to apply bait acts until Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949, when the federal government assumed jurisdiction over the regulation of bait. The current Coastal Fisheries Protection Act addresses the obtaining of bait in Canadian waters by foreign fishing vessels.
See Fisheries History.