USA border officials have not been deliberately "harassing" Canadian fishing boats in disputed Atlantic waters - agents have boarded numerous American vessels, too, as part of an unprecedented recent operation, says a prominent ME lobsterman.
Rick Doucet, the fisheries minister for the Canadian province of New Brunswick, told The National Post that fishermen have spoken of "heavily armed" Border Patrol agents climbing into Canadian lobster boats and searching for "illegal immigrants".
The U.S. border agents have targeted fishing boats off Machias Seal Island, a "gray area" east of ME where Canadians and Americans fish for lobster side-by-side.
The Canadian government is investigating incidents that occurred in Canadian waters, and engaging USA agencies involved in the matter, said John Babcock, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, in an email.
He has also bolstered border security in the northern frontier with Canada, and the American Civil Liberties Union said USA police had been setting up more checkpoints on roads leading to the Canadian border to check people's citizenship.
After American fishermen came forward to say that their boats were also being intercepted by border patrol agents, the association said in a statement that they understood the incidents to be "part of a regular exercise being conducted along the U.S. marine border".
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"Canada's sovereignty over the Machias Seal Island and the surrounding waters is longstanding and has a strong foundation in global law", he said in a statement.
ME fishermen report being stopped and asked for identification and some boats have reportedly been boarded by Border Patrol agents.
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It's possible that neither country sees it as a high-stakes priority, said Kelly, but orderly access to the waters is "vital" to the two fishing industries.
The patrols are part of recent increased enforcement actions nationwide by the USA agency, including a checkpoint last month along Interstate 95 north of Bangor.
In the Houlton sector that includes the disputed waters around Machias Seal Island, agents have stopped and interviewed 21 Canadian boats in the 2018 fiscal year, and will continue to conduct such operations, the spokesperson said.
The Trump administration has enacted strict policies on illegal immigration in the United States, including a "zero tolerance policy" of criminally prosecuting anyone who crosses the border illegally. As a result, the area has long hosted lobster fisherman from both sides of the border.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Visitors head to Machias Seal Island on Friday, June 24, 2016. But both Canadian and American fishermen said they noticed increased activity in harbors and in the Atlantic in early June.
Laurence Cook, a spokesman for a Canadian fishermen's association, told Canadian media that at least 10 vessels were intercepted in the last two weeks alone near the Manchias Seal Island, just off the coast of ME and the Canadian province of New Brunswick.
"We are in a different time and Border Patrol is patrolling... 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".
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.