Canadians Heat Up Lobster Fishing in 'Gray Zone' off Cutler

By Cox, Tim | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), September 6, 2014 | Go to article overview

Canadians Heat Up Lobster Fishing in 'Gray Zone' off Cutler


Cox, Tim, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


CUTLER, Maine -- The disputed "gray zone" around Machias Seal Island has become a bone of contention again for Maine lobster fishermen who set traps in the region.

Canadian fishermen also ply the disputed waters, and there are more of them this year, which does not sit well with Down East lobstermen.

Maine officials also have received a few complaints about fishing in the area, although the chief of the Marine Patrol Bureau downplayed their significance.

Canada operates a lighthouse on the island. However, both countries claim the island, said Col. Joe Fessenden, head of Maine's Marine Patrol. Under a written agreement between the two countries, Canadian fisherman can work in the area under the laws and regulations of their country, and Maine fishermen can work under applicable state laws and regulations, Fessenden explained Thursday.

Machias Seal Island, about 20 acres, is located about 12 miles off the coast of Cutler. The "gray zone" encompasses about 70 square miles around the island.

Two fishermen who set traps in the region say there are more Canadians working the waters this year.

About 20 Canadian boats fished in the area last year, but this season there are more like 40-50, John Drouin, a Cutler lobsterman, said Tuesday. "There's more this year than there has been in the past," said Drouin. "We don't understand why."

About 20-25 boats from Cutler work in the area, he said, although others from Eastport to Jonesport also set traps in the gray zone -- about 40 in all, he estimated.

"It's been a difficult year already," Jeff Davis, a Machiasport fisherman who also sets traps near the island, said recently. "It's probably just going to get worse."

Davis estimated that about 40-45 Canadian boats are working in the region -- too many. "It's overfishing."

"There's been a few (altercations)," said Davis. "Nothing serious."

Drouin was not aware of any conflicts between fishermen, but there have been instances of tangled gear, he said. Some of the Canadian fishermen set traps in the fog, he said. "They don't seem to care."

Fessenden downplayed any brouhaha caused by the Canadian fishermen. "We've been in contact with their enforcement people," he said Wednesday, and have been assured that there has been no increase in the number of permits issued to allow Canadians to fish in the disputed waters. Canadian lobstermen have been using existing permits to fish in the region "because there's lobsters there," said Fessenden. …

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