U.S. border patrol questioned fishermen on Canadian waters

A spokesman for New Brunswick fishermen based on Grand Manan Island says at least 10 Canadian fishing boats have been intercepted by U.S. Border Patrol agents since last week while fishing in the disputed wate

At least 10 Canadian fishing boats have been stopped by USA immigration authorities within the past two weeks, Cook said, the latest escalation in a more than 300-year disagreement between the countries in the disputed waters off Machias Seal Island.

"Canada's sovereignty over the Machias Seal Island and the surrounding waters is long-standing and has a strong foundation in worldwide law", said Global Affairs spokeswoman Elizabeth Reid, adding that Ottawa was reaching out to the US authorities for more details on the incident.

A Canadian fishermen's group said this week that over the last two weeks at least 10 fishing boats from New Brunswick have been intercepted by US patrol agents while fishing around Machias Seal Island.

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.

The association declined to comment on the matter.

"Canada's sovereignty over the Machias Seal Island and the surrounding waters is long-standing and has a strong foundation in worldwide law", Global Affairs spokeswoman Elizabeth Reid told the CBC in an email. The actions have alarmed civil liberties groups already concerned with Border Patrol activities.

The U.S. State Department did not respond to questions about U.S. territorial claims on Machais Seal Island and the Gray Zone. And on June 30, Canada announced that there would be billions of dollars in retaliatory tariffs from Canada against the U.S.

The stops have been inconvenient, but he doesn't feel harassed, Drouin added.

Relations between Canada and the United States continue to deteriorate. The Border Patrol described the encounters in the Atlantic as "regular patrol operations to enforce immigration laws".

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In a statement, the Association believes this was part of a regular exercise conducted by officials.

"There's been a bit of a misunderstanding there somewhere", Cook said in an interview.

"I wouldn't call it unprecedented or say that the fishermen were harassed", said John Drouin, 53, a member of the Maine Lobster Advisory Council who lives in the coastal town of Cutler, about 10 miles from Machias Seal Island.

"Absolutely overkill", he said of the "disturbing" stops.

And last month, Canadians were astonished to learn that not only can American border agents seize their cellphones, but that the border patrol had established checkpoints throughout New England to stop foreigners.

There is a tiny island located on the coast of the Canadian province New Brunswick and American state ME that adding to the dispute. "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 dispute has fueled tension between American and Canadian fishermen over the years, as the waters around the island are especially important lobstering grounds. So far, 21 Canadian vessels have been interviewed by local agents in the 2018 fiscal year, she said, with zero immigration arrests made.

"I'm sure from the border patrol's perspective, that's not at all what they were doing", he said, citing the American claim on the area that dates back to the late 1700s.

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