The Lobster War (also known as the Lobster Operation) is an ironic name given to a dispute over spiny lobsters which occurred from 1961 to 1963 between Brazil and France. The Brazilian government refused to allow French fishing vessels to catch spiny lobsters 100 miles off the Brazilian northeast coast, arguing that lobsters "crawl along the continental shelf", while the French maintained that "lobsters swim" and that therefore, they might be caught by any fishing vessel from any country. The dispute was resolved unilaterally by Brazil, which extended its territorial waters to a 200-mile zone, taking in the disputed lobsters' bed.
A Brazilian Air Force Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress flying over the French escort vessel Tartu, off the coast of Brazil in 1963.
|Commanders and leaders|
Ad. Arnoldo Toscano
|Charles de Gaulle|
1 SquadronP-16 Tracker
Offshore Brazil: 1 Escort squadron
Offshore West Africa:
2 Escort squadron
|Casualties and losses|
Although this historical incident of coercive diplomacy may have taken place long before the drafting of the UNCLOS, the dispute ended with the signing of an agreement on 10 December 1964, which granted to twenty-six French ships the right of fishing for a period no longer than five years, on the grounds that they delivered to Brazilian fishermen a certain amount of profit over their fishing activities in the so-called "designated areas".
Incident and disputeEdit
In 1961, some groups of French fishermen who were operating very profitably off the coast of Mauritania decided to extend their search to the other side of the Atlantic ocean, settling on a spot off the coast of Brazil where lobsters are found on submerged ledges at depths of 250–650 ft. But local fishermen complained that large boats were coming from France to catch lobster off the state of Pernambuco, so the Brazilian Admiral Arnoldo Toscano ordered two corvettes to sail to the area where the French fishing boats were located. Seeing that the fishermen's claim was justifiable, the captain of the Brazilian vessel then demanded that the French boats receded to deeper water, leaving the continental shelf to smaller Brazilian vessels. The situation became very tense once the French rejected this demand and radioed a message asking for the French government to send a destroyer to accompany the lobster boats, which prompted the Brazilian government to put its many ships on state of alert.
On the same day, Brazilian Foreign Minister Hermes Lima considered the French approach as an act of hostility, saying: "The attitude of France is inadmissible, and our government will not retreat. The lobster will not be caught." He called a secret meeting with his assistants to review the latest developments in the lobster war with France. Meanwhile, French President Charles de Gaulle could not control his anger when Brazil interfered with the French fishing boats that were looking for lobsters too close to the Brazilian coast, like this the French Government dispatched on 21 February the 2750-ton T 53-class destroyer Tartu to watch over the fishing boats,[n 1] but it was promptly repelled by a Brazilian cruiser and an aircraft carrier. The Brazilian President João Goulart then gave France 48 hours to withdraw all the French boats, but as they refused to leave the area the Brazilian Navy apprehended the French vessel Cassiopée off the Brazilian coast on 2 January 1962. By April 1963 both nations were considering whether they should go to war over lobsters or not. And once controversy was raised over international water limits between the two countries, as Brazil rejected the French invitation to arbitrate the dispute, it was then taken to an international court.
On the scientific thesisEdit
On 6 July 1966, the Administrative Tribunal of Rennes summarized the French government claims that lobsters are like fish, that is, that they swim about in the open sea and therefore, could not be considered part of the continental shelf. Brazil claimed that lobsters are like oysters in that they cling to the bottom of the ocean and therefore, were part of the continental shelf. Admiral Paulo Moreira da Silva, Brazil's Navy expert in the field of oceanography who had been sent to assist the diplomatic committee during the general discussions, argued that for Brazil to accept the French scientific thesis that a lobster would be considered a fish when it "leaps" on the seafloor, then they would have in the same manner to accept the Brazilian premise that when a kangaroo "hops" it would be considered a bird.
On the shipowner claimsEdit
It was also observed that the claims of MM. Celton and Stephen, two of the shipowners who sought compensation from the French State for losses occurred during the 1963 January–March fishing season had no right to any compensation at all, once the French Government could not be held responsible for the unsuccessful season due to a unilateral position of the Brazilian Government. Decisions of the Conseil d'État then dismissed the allegations that the French Government had authorized the plaintiff shipowners to send their vessels to go fish for lobsters on high seas, or off the coast of Brazil, stating that the licenses given to the plaintiffs accorded to the masters of the vessels and not the shipowners. That the derogation authorized the masters to exercise full command of their vessels as for fishing on high seas and not in a particular zone. There is no evidence that the French Government had authorized such action, their claims were rejected.
- On 21 February 1963, sailed from Toulon a task force headed by the aircraft carrier Clemenceau, followed by the cruisers De Grasse, Cassard, Jauréguiberry, the destroyer Tartu, the corvettes Le Picard, Le Gascon, L'Agenais, Le Béarnais, Le Vendéen (all T52 class), the tanker La Baise and Paul Goffeny. Initially, it should be only "one more commission" off the west coast of Africa to show the flag and perform routine exercises.
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- Fehlberg, Carlos. "Solução surge através da argumentação e um debate entre os oficiais da Marinha, após crise diplomática chegar ao extremo". Institutojoaogoulart.org.br. Instituto Joao Goulart. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
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