The dispute between Canadian and American lobster fishermen over what is known as the “Gray Zone” (or the “Grey Zone,” depending on who’s talking) is back in the news this summer. How hot the dispute will get also depends on who’s talking.
“It’s likely to get ugly,” says Greg Peacock, director of federal-provincial relations for the Canadian federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
“It could be a bit more contentious than in past summers. After all, everybody wants to be where the lobsters are,” says Melanie Sonnenberg, project manager for the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association (GMFA).
But Kristan Porter, a fisherman out of Cutler, says, “it’s the same as it’s always been. For some reason the Canadian government is ramping it up.” And Dave Cousens of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association says he thinks the fishermen should be allowed to settle the dispute themselves “and keep the government out of it.”
The Gray Zone is a roughly oval-shaped area in the Gulf of Maine surrounding the also-disputed Machias Seal Island and measuring approximately 100 square miles. Both the U.S. and Canadian governments have laid claim to the zone, and the dispute specifically involves fishermen from Washington County and Grand Manan, New Brunswick.
Because both countries insist that they have had sovereignty over the area since before 1832, it’s policed by Canadian Coast Guard and DFO, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Maine Marine Patrol.
In June, the Canadian Coast Guard “showed the flag” at Machias Seal Island and hosted a media tour.
“Over the years, we’ve seen 1,100 [illegal] traps, and they’re coming more and more,” Peacock said, adding that there have been instances of Canadian traps cut and gear vandalized. He added, however, that law enforcement officials from both sides work cooperatively. “If we spot a violator, there’s no high-speed chase, we simply notify the other side,” Peacock said.
But Porter insists that there have been accusations of gear vandalism, “when we weren’t even out there.”
Conceding that she’s not too hopeful, Sonnenberg says nevertheless, “We’d like to see them [Maine fishermen] come back to the table. I think it would help if they’d designate the area similarly to the way we have ours — LFA [Lobster Fishing Area] 38B. That could be the first step toward a complementary management plan for the area that could serve both countries.”
In answer to a similar question about the future, Porter responded, “What are we going to do? We’re going fishing. It’s as simple as that. I hear it [Gray Zone] referred to as that `lobster-rich area.’ Well, it’s no different than any other area. What’s going to happen is that there’ll be all this attention this summer, then the Canadians will go back and fish where they always fish. Come November, we’ll go out there and fish.”