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Canada investigating after U.S. border agents approach fishermen
09 July 2018, 07:46 | Ross Houston
Machias Seal Island is seen
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents have been questioning Canadian fishermen in disputed territorial waters around Machias Island about possible illegal immigration, according to Canadian media reports.
The association's chair wrote on Facebook the USA agents claimed to be "looking for illegal immigrants".
Global Affairs confirmed that Canada is looking into "these incidents that occurred in Canadian waters, including through engaging with United States agencies involved in the matter".
A USA customs spokesperson said the operation, which is being conducted by the agency's Houlton, Maine, office, is part of a routine enforcement effort and such inspections have been made in the past.
Lawrence Book, chair of the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association, said the agents were looking for migrants without the required documentation to enter the United States.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, confirmed the encounters but said they were routine and suggested that agents did not board the boats but rather adjoined them so agents could ask questions.
The island's nationality has been disputed for roughly 200 years, as a series of treaties between the US and the United Kingdom, which ruled over Canadian lands before they gained independence in 1867, never addressed which country it belong to. The waters around the 18-acre island, known for their lobster fishing, are a gray zone, meaning both the USA and Canada consider them sovereign territory.
Grand Manan is a Canadian island in the Gulf of ME, right near the border between the United States and Canada.
"Is this overkill? Absolutely". It's not known how many of those were fishing vessels.
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"Canadian fishermen are being harassed by US Border Patrol".
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"That's possible, but. the Gulf of ME is not a major route for illegal immigrants sneaking into the United States", Kelly said.
John Drouin, a lobsterman from Cutler and chairman of the Lobster Zone A Council, said Border Patrol has been cruising along the Down East coast from Cutler to Jonesport.
He has also bolstered border security in the northern frontier with Canada, and the American Civil Liberties Union said U.S. police had been setting up more checkpoints on roads leading to the Canadian border to check people's citizenship.
"Neither country accepts that there is a Grey Zone", said Stephen Kelly, a research scholar at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and a former American diplomat who served in Canada.
Primarily inhabited by nesting puffins, the islands of North Rock and Machias Seal remain the only disputed lands between USA and Canada, with both claiming sovereign jurisdiction over the islands and their surrounding waters.
Machias Seal Island is seen on June 24, 2016.
"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", she said. The actions have alarmed civil liberties groups already concerned with Border Patrol activities.
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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