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New Brunswick lobster fishermen have been setting their traps lately in waters muddied by an international hog wrestle –to mix a metaphor here – over a small, rocky island in the middle of the Bay of Fundy.
Both Canada and the United States claim Machias Seal Island and by doing so they're able to claim the lobster-rich waters that surround it. There's nothing new with the dispute; it's lasted for centuries with no end in sight. Machias Seal Island is a speck of rock in the Bay of Fundy between the Maine and New Brunswick coasts.
David Cousens of the Maine Lobstermen's Association says he doubts the two governments will ever resolve the issue, which proves he's a keen observer of governments. Cousens, who lives in South Thomaston, says it should be left to the fishermen themselves to settle. I guess he knows what he's suggesting.
"When you get a bunch of lobstermen in the same room, we can usually solve our problems," he says. "You know, half a gallon of rum, three hours and usually we come out with a workable solution."
Let's just hope they also have a designated driver in the bunch.
"But when governments get involved, someone always wants to one-up someone else to get a feather in their cap. When that type of mentality is present, it's hard to get anything done," Cousens added.
As far as we know, Machias Seal Island is the source of the only border dispute between ourselves and our good neighbors to the north for well over a century New Hampshire is another story, but we don't have time or space for that story now.
Considering the length of our border with Canada we haven't had that many border issues with our northern neighbors. But we have had a few and one that could have turned real ugly really fast was the dispute involving Aroostook County's western border.
Where this current dispute involves more lobster than land, the bloodless and victimless "Aroostook War" back in the 1840s involved lumber. The Madawaska territory had it, and people in Canada and the U.S. wanted it.
Because Maine has always had more land than people to fill it we've tended to be a little lax when it came to things like borders. The treaty that started that lax attitude was the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution in 1783. The treaty had lots of high-falootin’ language like all treaties do, but in all its flowery words it never got around to clearly defining the boundary between New Brunswick and what is now Maine.
When things got a little heated among woodsmen in that disputed area, Maine and New Brunswick called out their malitiamen, and the Congress, at Maine's insistence, authorized a force of 50,000 men and appropriated $10 million to meet the emergency. President Martin Van Buren dispatched Gen. Winfield Scott to the area but eventually both sides arranged an agreement between Maine and New Brunswick that averted actual fighting. The matter was settled in 1842 by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty.
Considering the length of our international border with Canada, things have been pretty quiet ever since. Other minor disagreements over where to draw the US-Canada line include the Northwest Passage, the Dixon Entrance between B.C. and Alaska, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
So, what will our next dispute involve? First was lumber, now lobsters. Maybe potatoes will be next and farmers will settle it over a bottle of vodka.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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