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US, Canada at odds over fishing island

GRAND MANAN, New Brunswick -- The Canadian Coast Guard showed its flag and some muscle yesterday as it patrolled the Bay of Fundy near a tiny island claimed by both Canada and the United States.

Patrol boats headed out to Machias Seal Island off southern New Brunswick where tensions are high between Canadian and US lobster fishermen setting traps in a disputed area known as the gray zone. Although heavy seas and dense fog cut the patrol short, Canadian fisheries officials traveling on one of the patrol boats said they wanted to drive home the message that it's time to settle the longstanding dispute.

"American officials say they're not getting complaints from their fishermen, so this isn't an issue," said Faith Scattolon, regional director general for Fisheries and Oceans Canada. ". . . There have been several reports of gear being cut and people losing gear in the area. That's a significant concern for us."

Laurence Cook of the Grand Manan Lobster Fishermen's Association said too many fishermen are crowding the relatively small patch of ocean to catch lobster. The 77-square mile area normally would be considered sufficient for only three or four lobster fishermen.

Instead, as many as 50 fishermen, most of them Americans, pack into the area off Machias Seal Island, he said.

"It's very congested," Cook said. "It's a very hard area to fish. The Americans think it's theirs; the Canadians think it's theirs, and nobody gets along all that well."

The tiny island off the Maine and New Brunswick coasts is a little more than a spit of rock known to birdwatchers for its puffins and migratory bird populations.

Canada has maintained a lighthouse on the island since 1832. It is the only manned lighthouse in the Maritime Provinces.