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article imageU.S. Border Patrol allegedly stopping Canadian fishing vessels

By Karen Graham     Jul 5, 2018 in Politics
The government of Canada is investigating reports that U.S. Border Patrol agents stopped Canadian fishing boats in a search for undocumented immigrants in disputed waters off the coast of Maine.
At least 10 Canadian fishing boats out of New Brunswick have been stopped by U.S. Border Patrol agents in recent weeks in disputed waters around Machias Seal Island, a spokesman for the fishermen says.
On June 25, Laurence Cook of the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association said in a personal posting on Facebook: "US border patrol attempted to stop Nick Brown in the zone yesterday. He informed them he was a Canadian vessel legally fishing in Canadian waters. Right answer Nick. Typical American bullies."
Cook, who is also the chairman of the advisory board for Lobster Fishing Area 38, said Wednesday that "some Canadian vessels were boarded by American agents who asked about possible illegal immigrants," according to CTV News Canada.
Along the shore around Ingonish Point there were fishing boats pulling in their lobster traps  a typ...
Along the shore around Ingonish Point there were fishing boats pulling in their lobster traps, a typical Nova Scotia scene.
Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada (CC BY 2.0)
"There's been a bit of a misunderstanding there somewhere," Cook said in an interview. "They're in international waters, so border patrol shouldn't be boarding Canadian vessels."
CBC Canada is reporting there has been at least two and as many as ten stops by U.S. Border Patrol agents in the past few weeks. The incidents were alleged to have taken place on June 24 and June 25 around Machias Seal Island and North Rock.
Amy Mills, spokeswoman for Global Affairs Canada, the nation's diplomatic and consular agency, told NBC News through an email that Canada was looking into the matter.
Disputed waters versus US federal law
Machias Seal Island is an island in disputed water between both the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy. The island lies about 19 kilometers (11.8 miles) southwest of Grand Manan Island and east of Maine in a disputed area known as the "Grey Zone,"
This "Grey Zone" is a 277-square-mile area of overlapping American and Canadian maritime claims.
Grand Manan lobster fishing boats in North Head Harbor in New Brunswick  Canada.
Grand Manan lobster fishing boats in North Head Harbor in New Brunswick, Canada.
The island is a barren piece of rock, with no trees - and because of its location at the boundary between the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of Maine - it is often shrouded in fog. It is a sanctuary for seabirds such as Atlantic puffins, razorbills, common murres, common and Arctic terns, Leach's storm-petrels, and common eiders.
Other than seabirds, the only sign of life on the island is a lighthouse that is manned by two Canadian lightkeepers year-round. And while both Canadian and American lobstermen have fished the area side-by-side for decades on end, both countries claim sovereign jurisdiction over the island and the surrounding waters at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy.
"Neither country accepts that there is a Grey Zone," said Stephen Kelly, a research scholar at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and a former American diplomat who served in Canada. "That's created more tension in the area over the last decade."
And while Canada may have the upper hand because of the manned lighthouse, built "for sovereignty purposes," the U.S. has never relinquished its claim on the island, according to the Press Herald.
Gray seals and harbor seals sun themselves on North Rock North Rock and Machias Seal Island are in t...
Gray seals and harbor seals sun themselves on North Rock North Rock and Machias Seal Island are in the northern Gulf of Maine to the southeast of Machias, Maine in disputed territory.
"Sometimes doing nothing is better," Kelly said. "But in this case, just because it looks like it's not broken can be very deceiving -- especially with our new president in the United States. The last thing Canada wants is for Donald Trump to seize on this as an example of U.S. sovereignty being challenged."
He also adds that the very idea that U.S. Border Patrol agents were looking for illegal immigrants is very unlikely. "That's possible, but ... the Gulf of Maine is not a major route for illegal immigrants sneaking into the United States," Kelly said. "If anything, people are sneaking the other way. They're trying to get out of the U.S. and into Canada to claim asylum."
The alleged incidents of Canadian fishing boats being stopped in what is actually international waters, even though they are disputed, has further strained what has always been reciprocal good relations between the two countries. As Cook says, "All of a sudden the attitude has changed. What caused that? You'll have to talk to border patrol."
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