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The Gray Zone by Charles Francis

If you're a Mainer, the Gray Zone lies off Washington County and includes Machia s Seal Island and North Rock in its bounds. If you're a Bluenose, the Grey Zone lies off Charlotte County, New Brunswick. It still includes Machias Seal Island and North Rock though. Some Bluenosers consi der both land forms geological extensions of Grand Manan. The Gray Zone-Grey Zone is and has been a point of contention for fishermen of b oth Washington and Charlotte counties for a long time. The term itself- whether gray or grey- seems the creation of the press. It does seem appropriate though. Gray is a neutral color. American children learn that fact in elementary school. Canadian school children learn that grey is a neutral colour. Do the spellings matter? Not really. Both gray and grey have the same origin. They date back at l east to Middle English and probably to the Old English Mercian grei. From the st andpoint of semantics the important concept here is probably that gray and/or gr ey- take your pick- as a color and/or colour is neutral. (For the sake of brevit y gray will be used here from now on.) To a certain extent the Gray Zone does seem to is as if it were hung out in a strange sort of This odd state of affairs would seem to exist capitols of the United States and Canada have eed only go back to the early 1980s to see the possess a kind of neutrality. It apolitical non-territorial limbo. because the powers that be in the chosen that it be that way. One n point.

In 1979 Canada and the United States asked the International Court of Justice to rule on the international boundary separating the two in the Gulf of Maine. The point of the request was to avoid conflicts relating to mineral exploration and fishing. When the Court ruled in 1984 neither Machias Seal Island nor North Roc k were included in the decision. One observer put the failure of the Court to a ddress the issue this way: the ...sovereignty [of Machias Seal Island and North Ro ck] would not be in question today if it were not for the decision by Canada and the United States to avoid settling [the] issue.... So because of the above peculiar legal happenstance fishermen, mostly lobsterme n, from Washington County and Charlotte County compete for their livelihood. How long has the competition been going on? One just might find an answer to this q uestion in local folklore, in the person of the larger than life Barney Beal. Tall Barney Beal was noted for his great strength. As his story goes 6'7 Barney onc e dropped a horse with a single blow. On another occasion he took on fifteen men in a Portland brawl and came out on top. Then there is the tale of his run-in w ith British maritime authorities- or maybe it was just fishermen- from Nova Scot ia or New Brunswick. Regardless, what happened took place off Black's Island. A t least that's how the story goes. This particular Barney Beal tale takes place before Canada was an independent na

tion and still under British governance. (Canada became a country in 1867.) Blac k's Island was located in a part of that era's Gray Zone. Regardless of the af orementioned complexities Barney was in territorial waters claimed by both or n either the US and the British. What happened was that British authorities- or pe rhaps it was just fishermen- decided to force Barney out of the territory. They boarded his sloop. They had guns, probably rifles. Barney broke the weapons over his knee. Then he broke a fellow's arm. The British or the Bluenose fishermen w ent running. All of this happened a long time ago, in the 1840s or maybe a bit l ater or a bit earlier. It is a folktale after all and flexible as to exactly whe n and where. The point is the Gray Zone has been contentious for a very long tim e. There is an additional point, the Gray Zone has never been static, it has shi fted. Black's Island is an example. So too is Todd Island in the St. Croix River . The Todd Island issue, unlike that of Machias Seal Island and North Rock, was settled and with relative ease. The reason why it was settled was because the p arties responsible for dealing with the issue wanted it settled. Portions of the St. Croix River were once a part of the Gray Zone. The St. Croix River is the only navigable river separating the United States and Canada. The international boundary in the St. Croix is based on the center of the navigable channel. This particular international line is called a thalweg. Thalweg as it is most often used in international law refers to the middle of the main navigab le channel of a waterway that serves as an international border. When a dispute arose over the national ownership of Todd Island, the Joint Inter national Boundary Commission, which administers the border between the United St ates and Canada, had surveyors take literally thousands of soundings to determin e to which side of the island the deeper part of the St. Croix River channel lay . The results were inconclusive. So too were the results obtained by constructin g a scale model into which they poured quantities of water and measured the vol ume of its discharge into each channel. The issue was finally settled in 1934 wh en, on the basis of other evidence, the commissioners agreed that the island bel onged to Canada. If the Todd Island issue could be settled by the Joint International Boundary Co mmission, why can't the governments of the United States and Canada simply turn over the issue of the Gray Zone to the Commission? The seas to the west of the Gray Zone are clearly US waters. However, fishing tr adition as well as regulations limit Maine fishermen in the US area. This forces some to work the Gray Zone to maintain a sustainable livelihood. Canadian fishi ng regulations, while they differ from those of the US, cause problems for New B runswick fishermen. Some Bluenosers depend on the Gray Zone for their livelihood s. One report says that every summer about thirty-five boats from Washington County and an average of eighteen from Grand Manan set as many as 34,000 traps in the Gray Zone. Gear is set so close that snarls of US and Canadian trawls are an al most daily occurrence. Problems like the above are a clear indication that the situation in the Gray Zo ne is not a good one. Clearly something must be done. The mechanism to do someth ing exists in the form of the Joint International Boundary Commission. It is a m echanism that the governments of Canada and the US seem loathe to use.