We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

Lobster fishing practices underscore US-Canada island boundary dispute

(19 June 2015)

The US and Canada have disputed ownership of Machias Seal Island and its profitable 700-km lobster fishery for decades, but new lobster fishing practices are intensifying the debate. The area once dominated by local fishermen from neighbouring Cutler, Maine and Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick is now faced with increasing numbers of Canadians from other areas obtaining licences to fish as well, straining the informal boundary agreements that had regulated the disputed area.

Machias Seal Island has been a subject of dispute between the US and Canada since 1971. The island is not mentioned in any boundary agreement between the two countries. Canada argues that it is included within the Nova Scotia territory agreed to in a 1621 land grant from England; whereas the US claims that a 1783 treaty supersedes that grant and awards the territory to the US. The Canadian government promotes its claim to the territory by staffing an 1830’s-era lighthouse on the island.

Informal agreements between local fishermen governed the use of the fishing territory despite the countries not having achieved a formal resolution to the dispute, but high lobster prices have increased the attractiveness of the fishery for fishermen from outside the area. The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans released a statement claiming that the US and Canada are working to "to ensure effective enforcement and to develop a coordinated management approach for this area."


Lobster fishery intensifies Machias Seal Island boundary dispute, 1 June 2015, by Jacques Poitras for CBC News,