American border patrol agents stopping and boarding Canadian vessels - spokesman

Machias Seal Island

Canada is investigating at least two incidents in which two Canadian fishing vessels were reportedly stopped and questioned by U.S. Border Patrol agents in disputed waters off ME, a spokesman for the country's foreign affairs department confirmed Thursday.

Concerns about illegal immigration at the border between the U.S. and Mexico should not be applied to the Canada-U.S. border, he added.

A representative with the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association said United States border agents tried to stop a Canadian vessel while looking for illegal immigrants.

The ships were intercepted while fishing around the Machias Seal Island, an area between the Gulf of ME and the Bay of Fundy that has been disputed between the two North American neighbors for centuries.

Global Affairs Canada, the equivalent of the State Department in the USA, told the CBC that it has confirmed at least two incidents in which Customs and Border Patrol agents had questioned Canadian fishermen off the island. "Our understanding is that this was part of a regular exercise conducted along the US marine border", the association said.

Laurence Cook, chair of the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association lobster committee, wrote in a June 25 Facebook post that agents who attempted to stop a Canadian fisherman were "typical American bullies".

Meanwhile, Drouin charges that the chief problem in the disputed area is not the border patrol, but the Canadian government's lack of management of the fishery there.

"Canada's sovereignty over the Machias Seal Island and the surrounding waters is longstanding and has a strong foundation in worldwide law", he said in a statement.

Reports say that the agents were asking about illegal immigrants.

"Obviously, we are concerned when Canadian fishers are intercepted by American authorities when they are practising fishing activity that has existed positively and co-operatively with the Americans for a very long time", Dominic LeBlanc, the minister of fisheries and oceans, said Thursday morning.

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She referred further questions to the U.S. State Department, which had no immediate response. The island and surrounding waters are claimed by both the US and Canada, though boats from both countries have fished the waters comfortably for years. It's not known how many of those were fishing vessels.

While the bulk of the Border Patrol's operations focus on the United States' southern border, the agency maintains a modest presence near the northern border with Canada.

The veteran fisherman said he was slightly bemused by the encounter, having rarely seen patrol boats in the area over four decades of fishing the rich lobster grounds, something Canadian fishermen also said was a new and unusual phenomenon.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent looks over Lake Erie near the U.S. 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.

But Drouin said the bigger issue is Canadian use of the zone.

The dispute over the Gray Zone around Machias Seal Island traces back to the period following the American Revolutionary War.

"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".

Cook, in fact, said border agents have stopped at least 10 fishing boats over the past two weeks.

The decision to enforce American immigration rules in the area effectively denies the strong Canadian claim to the islands and waters. Any vessel operator that does not slow down and stop when ordered by Border Patrol agents can be criminally charged, Malin said.

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