A Canadian fisherman's association is reporting that U.S. Border Patrol agents have stopped and questioned multiple Canadian fishermen in waters that are the subject of an ongoing territorial dispute.
The question of jurisdiction flared up recently after the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association said a Canadian vessel had been stopped by U.S. border patrol while fishing in the waters near Machias Seal Island in late June. The island is located in the lower Bay of Fundy, approximately 15 kilometres west of Grand Manan Island.
A spokesman for Global Affairs Canada has said it is contacting US agencies about the encounters, but that the federal government considers its sovereignty over the area to be "long-standing" and grounded in worldwide law. "Our understanding is that this was part of a regular exercise being conducted along the USA marine border".
The U.S. border patrol attempted to stop Grand Manan fisherman Nick Brown in the grey zone, he wrote.
In a statement to the Guardian, US Customs and Border Protection confirmed that agents had "interviewed" 21 Canadian vessels so far this year.
Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said, "Obviously, we are concerned when Canadian fishers are intercepted by American authorities when they are practicing fishing activity that has existed positively and co-cooperatively with the Americans for a very long time".
The Grey Zone consists of about 700 square kilometres of lucrative lobster waters surrounding Machias Seal Island, and has been claimed by both Canada and the US for decades.
Grand Manan is a Canadian island in the Gulf of ME, right off the coast that hosts the border between the United States and Canada.
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Kristan Porter, another Cutler lobsterman and president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, said he hasn't been stopped by Border Patrol yet, but most of the 25 or 30 lobstermen in town have.
Federal law gives Border Patrol the authority to stop, search and examine any vehicle entering the US including those in a maritime environment, Malin said.
A former American diplomat to Canada says the episodes late last month underscore the need for the two countries to settle their quarrel over the so-called "grey zone" surrounding the island before it erupts into violence.
There's no telling just how American policing of the waters in the Gulf of ME will affect the Canadian fishing industry there.
The decision to enforce American immigration rules in the area effectively denies the strong Canadian claim to the islands and waters.
Machias Seal Island, a 20-acre island home to a Canadian lighthouse, no permanent human residents, and lots of puffins, has been claimed by both countries since the early 19th century.
Border Patrol does not board Canadian vessels without consent or probable cause and only conducts interviews as a vessel runs parallel to it, bow to stern, she added.
Stephanie Malin, a spokeswoman for CBP, says that the Border Patrol has routinely patrolled "within the water boundaries of the United States" for decades and that such enforcement operations are soundly within the agency's jurisdiction.
Machias Seal Island is seen on June 24, 2016. In 2007, according to the National Post, an American fisherman had his thumb torn off when his equipment became tangled during a dispute with a Canadian competitor. Tension over fishing rights in the area can get heated when the price of lobster is high, leading to threats and accusations of line-cutting and other sabotage.