Machias Seal Island.
Portland Press Herald—Getty Images
By Jamie Ducharme
July 5, 2018

Canadian officials say armed U.S. Border Patrol agents have been stopping and boarding Canadian fishing boats to look for illegal immigrants in the contested waters between Maine and New Brunswick, resurfacing an old maritime dispute.

The area is home to Machias Seal Island and represents one of the last remaining border disputes between the U.S. and Canada, thanks to competing stipulations laid out by treaties and land grants. The waters around the 18-acre island, known for their lobster fishing, are a gray zone, meaning both the U.S. and Canada consider them sovereign territory.

That debate has come to a head lately, starting with a June 25 Facebook post in which a Canadian fisherman alleged that U.S. Border Patrol attempted to stop a fellow fisherman “in the zone.” The Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association later confirmed that several such interactions occurred in June, NBC reports.

On Wednesday, New Brunswick Fisheries Minister Rick Doucet told the National Post that he has heard multiple reports of armed U.S. Border Patrol agents boarding lobster boats to look for immigrants.

“Is this overkill? Absolutely. Absolutely overkill,” Doucet told the Post. “It’s quite disturbing when you have fishermen on the water, doing their job, providing for their families … and they’re being harassed,” he said. “Canadian fishermen are being harassed by U.S. Border Patrol. As far as I’m concerned, it needs to stop immediately.”

In a statement provided to the National Post, U.S. Border Patrol said its employees were properly enforcing immigration law.

“Border Patrol does not board Canadian Vessels in the grey zone without consent or probable cause and only conduct(s) interviews as a vessel runs parallel to it, bow to stern,” a spokesman said in the statement.

Despite their governments’ debate, Canadian and American fishermen typically coexist in this area relatively peacefully — with a few notable exceptions. 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.

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