It’s called the “Gray Zone,” and for a long time the name fit as far as lobstermen from Maine and Grand Manan were concerned. But this summer it all changed, and now it’s an area of sometimes heated dispute.

Both the U.S. and Canadian governments have laid claim to the “Gray Zone,” a roughly oval-shaped area in the Gulf of Maine centering on the also-disputed Machias Seal Island. Because of staggered lobster seasons, however, the area has not been a problem for lobstermen from either side.

Noting that Maine fishermen had increased their effort in the zone, Grand Manan fishermen said they were concerned that the effort would decrease their catches during the regular season, from November to June. Both sides met in April to talk about the issue, but failed to resolve it.

“They [Maine fishermen] said that if we were so concerned about this, why didn’t we just come over and fish,” says Laurence Cook, a Grand Manan fisherman, who’s also chairman of the Lobster Fishing Area 38 advisory committee. “I don’t think they thought we would, but they were wrong.”

On Aug. 15, Grand Manan fishermen began setting traps the zone in a new season from Aug. 15 to Oct. 31, under a newly designated area, 38B, by the DFO. As of the third week in August, there were no reports of any incidents.

Norbert Lemieux, a Cutler fisherman and president of the Downeast Lobstermen’s Association, says that the whole situation could be resolved if the Grand Manan fishermen started their regular season a month earlier.

Lemieux, who is also chairman of Zone A (Eastport to Schoodic Point) Board, Lobster Management Council, and a member of the DMR Lobster Advisory Council, says that the Grand Manan action is a threat to the livelihoods of Cutler and Trescott fishermen. “As it is, the boundary line comes right up to our front door,” he says. “What more do they want?”

Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner George Lapointe, however, believes that the only way the dispute will be settled is by “face-to-face meetings, fishermen to fishermen.”

Lapointe says that he’s been working with Greg Peacock of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans to set up such a meeting, tentatively scheduled for the third week in September.

“There are a lot of issues that need to be talked about,” Lapointe says. “And we need to start discussions soon before we move into the winter season and get some kind of resolution.”

He concedes that the task won’t be easy. “This is an extremely complex issue. It’s a lot more complicated that just moving some traps.”

Each side maintains that the other is harming conservation efforts, and both sides say that their respective proposals have been ignored. Lemieux charges that Grand Manan fishermen laid gear over Maine trawl lines, but Cook says that he had to pull his gear out from under Maine gear.

In response to a charge by Lemieux that the Aug. 15 action didn’t have the support of a majority of Grand Manan fishermen, Cook says, “We sent mail ballots out to all lobster license holders, and the majority were in favor of this action. It wasn’t even close.”

Lemieux says, “Look, we’re not trying to take anything away from them. We’re just trying to fish where we’ve always fished.”