US & Canada

St Pierre and Miquelon profile - Overview

Map of St Pierre and Miquelon

The sole remnant of France's once-extensive possessions in North America, the Atlantic islands of St Pierre and Miquelon lie off the Canadian island of Newfoundland.

With little agriculture and a troubled fishing industry, they depend on France for subsidies and on their near neighbour for goods and transport links.

Fish processing is the main economic activity, although tourism is increasingly important. The territory capitalises on its image as "France in North America".

Image caption A fisherman's cottage on the archipelago of St Pierre and Miquelon

The fishing industry was badly hit by disputes with Canada from the late 1970s over quotas and territorial waters, and by a later moratorium on cod fishing. In 1992 a tribunal awarded an economic zone to St Pierre and Miquelon that was less than 25% of the area claimed by France.

At its peak the fishery attracted hundreds of vessels from Europe every year, spawning a ship supply and repair industry.

After periods of French and British rule and frequent skirmishes between the two, the territory was restored to France in 1816. It became a French department in 1976. This was unpopular; many islanders said European integration did not take into account their remoteness.

The islands became a French "territorial collectivity" in 1985. The status - something between a department and an overseas territory - allowed French subsidies to continue and calmed Canadian fears about European exploitation of its fishing grounds.

The territory enjoyed a windfall in the prohibition era of the 1920s, when the US banned the production and sale of alcoholic drinks. It became a centre for shipping whisky, wine and rum to the US. But the end of prohibition in 1933 plunged the islands into economic depression.

Fish stocks in the seas around the islands attracted the first Europeans. A French fishing post was established in 1604. The descendants of the first settlers - including Bretons, Normans and Basques - make up much of the present population.

Rugged cliffs, hills, lakes and peat bogs characterise the mostly-barren landscape.

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