Canada investigates run-ins between US customs, fishermen

Katie Ramirez
July 8, 2018

Canada is investigating incidents of United States patrol boats straying into waters it claims as its own and approaching Canadian fishing vessels.

The question of jurisdiction flared up recently after the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association said a Canadian vessel had been stopped by United States border patrol while fishing in the waters near Machias Seal Island in late June.

The flare-up - amid recently heightened tensions between the United States and Canadian government over trade - revolves around the last, unresolved land-border dispute between the two longtime North American allies.

Cook said that incident took place near the Machias Seal Island, a tiny rocky outcrop a dozen miles south of Grand Manan that has rich lobster grounds, and whose sovereignty is disputed by Washington, although the Canadian Coast Guard maintains a lighthouse there. In fact, he said the officers appear unfamiliar with the marine world and would nearly certainly be unable to distinguish between Canadian and USA vessels.

Rick Doucet, New Brunswick's fisheries minister, told the National Post Wednesday that fishermen have informed him of "heavily armed" border patrol agents clambering onto lobster boats, saying they were looking for illegal immigrants.

"There's been a bit of a misunderstanding there somewhere", Cook said.

The area in question is just off Machias Seal Island.

"Typical American bullies ... not surprised to see the Americans trying to push people around", Cook wrote. Both countries claim the island, which is about 10 miles off ME and home to two full-time residents (both Canadian), puffins, rocks and not much else, and say they have the right to patrol its boundaries.

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"Canada's sovereignty over the area is long-standing and has a strong foundation in worldwide law", the post said.

"They're in global waters, so border patrol shouldn't be boarding Canadian vessels", he said.

"I honestly do not know what's going on", he said, adding that a directive to patrol the area may be linked to a broader culture change with the election of U.S. President Donald Trump.

"Canada's sovereignty over the Machias Seal Island and the surrounding waters is long-standing and has a strong foundation in worldwide law", said Global Affairs spokeswoman Elizabeth Reid, adding that Ottawa was reaching out to the US authorities for more details on the incident.

She said the agency did not have statistics on how many US vessels have been stopped in ME this year and the last five years and would not say how many vessels and personnel were involved in offshore Border Patrol operations or where precisely agents are patrolling.

LeBlanc said concerns about illegal immigration at the border between the U.S. and Mexico should not be applied to the Canada-U.S. border.

In a written statement, the fisherman's association said American and Canadian fishermen have jointly fished the 102-square mile area for years. Their counterparts in Canada mostly stayed off in the distance, setting cages during the winter around the coast of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Drouin, a member of Maine's lobster advisory council, said he witnessed three other vessels that were also stopped and questioned, and has seen several Border Patrol vessels in the area over the last month. "Canada relationship." Since then, Canada has fired back with tariffs of its own on US goods from steel and iron to ketchup and dish soap.

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