The Canadian-American War Over Two Tiny, Treeless Maritime Islands

by Owen James Burke

1942 Eric Aldwinckle and Albert E. Cloutier. Lick them over there

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Lobstermen are a brutish breed; I say this only because I grew up amongst them. Even at 12 and 13 years of age while fishing in my small skiff, Blues Dory, I had horrific confrontations with them. Guns were drawn, expletives were shouted. All at a young boy quietly fishing in his little open skiff.

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Above: The American, true, northern, or Maine lobster (Homarus americanus), depending on whom you ask. Others just call it Maritime gold. Photo: Santa Barbara Fish Market.

It’s a precious commodity those men spend their lives chasing, and they’ll guard their traps and their catch to the bitter end.

Above: Machias Seal Rock, one of two disputed islands between the Gulf of Maine (USA) and New Brunswick (CA), upon which only Canada has staked its flag. Photo: Fred J. Field/CP.

A pair of islands in what is called “the gray area” between the United States and Canada are more or less barren, arid low-lying protrusions from the sea–rocks, really. One, called North Rock, is home to a gray seal colony. The other, Machias Seal Rock, is a puffin sanctuary and Canada’s (or so they claim) last manned lighthouse. It’s also only .1 square kilometers and uninhabitable, for all intents and purposes. So why has a battle between The United States and Canada continued to quietly ensue since, well, The American Revolution?

Above: North Rock. I don’t think there’s a place to put a flag on this ‘island’–at least nowhere it wouldn’t be torn down by the territorial gray seal. Photo: Jmchone/Wikipedia.

It’s not so much what lies on these quiet rocks (one of which is only 0.1 acres), but what is found in the waters around them. Some of the world’s best lobstering grounds lie within this “gray area,” which until recently, has produced little more dispute than a few localized, hotheaded scuffles.

But that’s all changing. The price of lobster has jumped from about $4.00/lb. to $5.50, a 37.5% leap. This has drawn the attention and interest of distant fisheries.

Now, as “company boats,” or larger scale commercial outfits move in from other parts of Canada (namely Nova Scotia), American–or shall we delineate, ‘Mainers’–are frothing.

While little attention or energy is being devoted to the matter in either Ottawa or Washington, D.C., the respective nations’ capitols, the conflict is beginning to boil over, Canadian journal Maclean’s reports. -OJB

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