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.
Canadian and US lobster fishermen have fished around Machias Seal Island - which is claimed by both nations - for decades. The island is located in the lower Bay of Fundy, approximately 15 kilometres west of Grand Manan Island.
A statement from the association released Wednesday said the waters have been fished by both US and Canadian crews for years.
In a statement, the Association believes this was part of a regular exercise conducted by officials.
Laurence Cook, the chair of the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association, said earlier the agents claimed they were "looking for illegal immigrants".
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US Customs and Border Protection said Thursday agents whose sector covers the area have interviewed workers on 21 Canadian vessels this fiscal year while conducting regular patrols to enforce immigration laws.
"They're in global waters, so border patrol shouldn't be boarding Canadian vessels", he said.
"Canada's sovereignty over the Machias Seal Island and the surrounding waters is long standing and has a strong foundation in worldwide law", spokesman John Babcock said in an emailed statement. Machias Seal Island, a small low-lying island with a lighthouse manned and maintained by the Canadian government, lies about 12 miles southwest of the Canadian island of Grand Manan and 12 miles southeast of the ME village of Cutler.
"Is this overkill? Absolutely".
According to Cook, the Canadian fishing captain, Nick Brown, informed the United States vessel that "he was a Canadian vessel legally fishing in Canadian waters". "Canadian fishermen are being harassed by US border patrol".
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Ties between Canada and the United States have been strained since Trump slapped tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminium, citing U.S. national security. Cook later said he had heard of 10 fishing boats being stopped by American agents in recent weeks. He said he was "not surprised to see the Americans trying to push people around", describing them as "typical American bullies". "... Border Patrol does not board Canadian Vessels in the Grey Zone without consent or probable cause and only conduct interviews as a vessel runs parallel to it, bow to stern".
The Canadian flag flutters in the breeze by the lighthouse at Machias Seal Island. The island itself is of little value; however, the surrounding waters are home to an increasingly valuable lobster catch. "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".
The area in question surrounds a collection of small islands off the coast of ME and New Brunswick.
He has argued that Canada and the US should submit the disagreement to arbitration at the world court.
The dispute has fueled tension between American and Canadian fishermen over the years, as the waters around the island are especially important lobstering grounds.
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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.