There have been death threats on both sides of the watery divide, as lobstermen accuse each other of sabotaging lines, stealing gear, and setting traps atop those already in the water. Fueling the tension is the rapid warming of the Gulf of Maine and the surging value of lobster, which has attracted more Canadian fishermen to the so-called Gray Zone, the disputed territory fished mainly by Americans until a decade ago.
Both countries now allow their lobstermen to fish there, though each claims exclusive ownership of the waters. "This is a ticking time bomb out here," says Brian Cates of Cutler, Maine, who has been fishing the contested waters near the Bay of Fundy since he was 9 years old. "It's just a matter of time before someone gets killed."
Several years ago, a Canadian patrol boat hauled up his and his son's traps, after one of his lines drifted into Canadian waters. Cates sped over to the vessel and threatened to ram it if the officers didn't return his gear, telling them, "I'm going to sink you." The Canadians returned his son's gear. But Canadian fishermen insist the Americans should get used to their presence.
"It's our bottom, and we're going to be there to stress our sovereignty," says Brian Guptill, president of the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association, who has been fishing in the area since the 1980s. "I'm going to go there to raise hell for a while." He adds, "There are going to be guys on both sides of the border slashing ropes and instigating problems."
American and Canadian law enforcement authorities, who cooperate and speak with each other regularly as they enforce their respective laws, have long been concerned about the potential for violence.