Published: Fri, July 06, 2018
Science | By Joan Schultz

U.S. Border Patrol reportedly stops Canadian vessels in disputed waters

U.S. Border Patrol reportedly stops Canadian vessels in disputed waters

CBC added that the U.S. agency said it was not looking into any possible fishing or boating violations, which is the responsibility of the U.S. Coast Guard.

"There's been a bit of a misunderstanding there somewhere", Laurence Cook, chairman of the advisory board for Lobster Fishing Area 38, said.

Canadian officials are investigating reports about two vessels specifically, stopped on June 24 and 25, where American agents claimed to be "looking for illegal immigrants", according to the Canadian outlet CBC News.

But that's not what fishermen have told Canadian officials.

"They're being harassed", Rick Doucet, New Brunswick's fisheries minister, told the Toronto-based National Post.

Spokesman John Babcock said the Canadian government is also talking with US agencies.

It was not immediately clear what happened during the stops, or how they compare to previous USBP activity in the area.

Doucet said Wednesday that the "heavily armed" Border Patrol agents were looking for undocumented immigrants, but that the fishermen were just "doing their job".

Late on Wednesday - the American Independence Day holiday - a spokesman for U.S. border patrol said its agents were carrying out regular operations to "enforce immigration laws and other violations of federal law".

Unlike Canada, the United States does not help maintain the island but still believes that it is their property. The island itself is of little value; however, the surrounding waters are home to an increasingly valuable lobster catch.

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

At least 10 Canadian fishing boats operating in disputed waters off the coast of ME were intercepted in recent days by U.S. Border Patrol agents searching for illegal immigrants, according to Canadian news organizations.

Stephanie Malin, a spokeswoman for CBP, says that the Border Patrol has routinely patrolled "within the water boundaries of the United States" for decades and that such enforcement operations are soundly within the agency's jurisdiction. "Our understanding is that this was part of a regular exercise being conducted along the USA marine border", said the association in a statement. The US and Canada have a long history of co-operation in the area on managing issues like fishing, though tensions have occasionally flared over the lobster-rich waters. So far, 21 Canadian vessels have been interviewed by local agents in the 2018 fiscal year, she said, with zero immigration arrests made.

A former American diplomat to Canada says the episodes late last month underscore the need for the two countries to settle their quarrel over the so-called "grey zone" surrounding the island before it erupts into violence. Resolving the dispute doesn't necessarily mean ceding the waters and island to one nation or the other, said Kelly.

John Babcock, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, said in a statement Thursday that the stops occurred in Canadian waters.

Cohen said he doesn't know who is being targeted by the U.S. Border Patrol when it pulls up along a Canadian fishing boat.

"Canada's sovereignty over the Machias Seal Island and the surrounding waters is long-standing and has a strong foundation in global law", Babcock said in an email to CBC News.

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