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At least 10 Canadian fishing boats have been stopped by US 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.

According to Laurence Cook, chairman of the advisory board for Lobster Fishing Area 38, Canadian vessels were boarded by American agents and the crew questioned about possible illegal immigration.

The CBC reported Wednesday that the encounters occurred on June 24 and 25 in a so-called "grey zone" around Machias Seal Island and North Rock between the Gulf of ME and the Bay of Fundy.

Global Affairs confirmed that Canada is looking into "these incidents that occurred in Canadian waters, including through engaging with USA agencies involved in the matter".

"Border Patrol does not board Canadian Vessels in the grey zone without consent or probable cause and only conduct (s) interviews as a vessel runs parallel to it, bow to stern", a spokesman said in the statement.

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.

Cook said that he heard from boat captains that the Border Patrol had searched at least two Canadian vessels in June.

The Grey Zone consists of about 700 square kilometres of lucrative lobster waters surrounding Machias Seal Island, and has been claimed by both Canada and the US for decades.

Reports say that the agents were asking about illegal immigrants. He added that transporting undocumented immigrants on the fishing boats is "possible" but that the Gulf of ME is not typically a path for migrants.

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.

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Primarily inhabited by nesting puffins, the islands of North Rock and Machias Seal remain the only disputed lands between U.S. and Canada, with both claiming sovereign jurisdiction over the islands and their surrounding waters.

"He informed them he was a Canadian vessel legally fishing in Canadian waters".

Sovereignty of the island is disputed with both Canada and the United States claiming ownership. As a result, the area has long hosted lobster fisherman from both sides of the border.

Drouin said the area has been "inundated" with Canadian lobster fishermen since 2002.

"We are in a different time and Border Patrol is patrolling..."

A representative for the association did not respond to an interview request Thursday.

In 40 years fishing off ME, this is the first time he can remember Border Patrol operating offshore like this, Drouin said.

"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 Grand Manan Fishermen's Association later confirmed that several such interactions occurred in June, NBC reports.

The Canadian lighthouse on Machias Seal Island, which is located about 12 miles off the coast of Cutler, is seen in this undated photo.

"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. Any vessel operator that does not slow down and stop when ordered by Border Patrol agents can be criminally charged, Malin said.


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