The Canadian government is investigating reports that US Border Patrol vessels have been stopping and boarding Canadian fishing boats in disputed waters to inquire about unauthorized immigrants - a move that stoked outrage among local fishermen who say the US is pushing Canadians around.
John Drouin of Cutler, Maine, said Friday that he was out about two weeks ago when USA patrol agents came alongside his boat in the so-called Grey Zone to him to ask where he was from and to see his paperwork. 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.
Global Affairs Canada spokesman John Babcock said in a statement that the incidents occurred in Canadian waters, and the Canadian government is working with the American agencies involved. US law allows such immigration enforcement actions to be conducted anywhere within 100 miles of the border.
Laurence Cook, chairman of the fishermen's association, wrote on Facebook that the fisherman, Nick Brown, informed US Border Patrol Agents he was in a Canadian vessel legally fishing in Canadian waters.
Late on Wednesday - the American Independence Day holiday - a spokesman for United States border patrol said its agents were carrying out regular operations to "enforce immigration laws and other violations of federal law".
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.
As Canada's presence increased in the area, Drouin said, so did Canadian fishing patrol boats, watching Americans operate their lobster traps.
There's no telling just how American policing of the waters in the Gulf of ME will affect the Canadian fishing industry there.
Even so, Drouin said that a Canadian Coast Guard ship appeared in the zone in recent days, an apparent response to the US actions. The waters near the island are referred to as the "gray zone" because both Canada and the US claim the island.
According to Cook, the Canadian fishing captain, Nick Brown, informed the U.S. vessel that "he was a Canadian vessel legally fishing in Canadian waters".
Only about 100,000 of the United States' 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants were from Canada, according to the Pew Research Center in 2014. As a result, the area has long hosted lobster fisherman from both sides of the border.
A representative for the association did not respond to an interview request Thursday.
Machias Seal Island is about 18 acres.
A long determined neutral zone between Canadian and American fishermen has become the latest display of the rising tensions between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The island sits in a a body of water that is disputed territory between the United States and Canada that in recent years has caused friction between Canadian and American lobsterman over who has the right to fish there.
"If the Canadians want to use the term harass, they have been harassing us for years", Drouin said.
"We are in a different time and Border Patrol is patrolling..."
"Until the matter of the boundary is resolved, we will continue to take practical steps with the U.S.to ensure that the area is well-managed". Resolving the dispute doesn't necessarily mean ceding the waters and island to one nation or the other, said Kelly.