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January 2, 2019

Bill proposed to expand nighttime fishing in ‘gray zone’ between Maine, Canada

A bill to expand nighttime lobster fishing in the "gray zone" between Maine and Canada is aimed at allowing Maine lobster fishermen to monitor their traps at night.

The Quoddy Tides reported that state Rep. Will Tuell of East Machias submitted the bill, which would allow nighttime fishing from Labor Day to Memorial Day, at the request of a group of Cutler fishermen. Maine fishermen are currently allowed to fish at night from Nov. 1 through Memorial Day, and Canadians can fish at night through the proposed period. Cutler fisherman Brian Cates told the newspaper that Maine fishermen are finding their gear hauled and lobsters taken from their traps. But Brian Guptill, president of the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association, said people likely act poorly on both sides of the border.

The gray zone is a disputed 277 square miles of sea around Machias Seal Island at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, according to lobsterwar.com, he website for a documentary, "Lobster War," that came out in 2018 and traces the source of the dispute. The island is a treeless, 20-acre rock about 10 miles from the Maine coast and 12 miles from Grand Manan Island, which is part of New Brunswick.

In 2015, Cutler fisherman John Drouin told Fishermen's Voice that the opposing sides try to fish strategically in the area. Historically, Drouin said, Maine fishermen kept to the U.S. side of the Hague Line that separates the waters of the U.S. and Canada, and Canadians stayed on the Canadian side of the line. But he said that some fishermen from both countries have fished in each other's waters to reach the most lucrative areas. Brian Guptill, president of the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association, told the newspaper that, over time, the advent of hydraulic power, bigger boats and more powerful propulsion allowed people to fish further offshore, which resulted in an expansion of fishing by fishermen from both countries into Gray Zone.

In July, U.S. Border Patrol operations caused consternation among Canadian vessels fishing in the gray zone; 21 Canadian vessels were stopped and some boarded on regular patrol operations over the period of a month. American fishermen were also being stopped.

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