Reprint – Machias Island Subject of Dispute Between Canada and US

 

As I stated in my post The Lighthouse as a Sovereignty Symbol, put a lighthouse on your disputed territory and it is yours, or something to that effect. Now here is another ongoing dispute coming to light again – Canada vs USA. According to my theory above, Canada wins! – retlkpr

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Machias Seal Island a seabird sanctuary

The Canadian Press

Posted: Dec 23, 2012 7:37 PM AT Last Updated: Dec 24, 2012 12:38 PM AT

The Canadian flag flutters in the breeze by the lighthouse at Machias Seal Island. (Photograph by: Fred J. Field-The Canadian Press)

A tiny island between New Brunswick and Maine is the subject of renewed calls from both sides of the border to settle a territorial dispute once and for all.

Machias Seal Island is a flat, treeless piece of rock located about 19 kilometres southwest of Grand Manan Island and east of Maine at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy.

The island is a sanctuary for many kinds of seabirds including the Atlantic Puffin and draws visitors from around the world to observe them in the summer. more . . .

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There are no permanent human residents on the island, just pairs of lightkeepers who spend 28 days at a time maintaining a lighthouse operated by the Canadian Coast Guard.

The original lighthouse was built by the British in 1832, and a lighthouse has been maintained there ever since.

So why would anyone even care which country gets title to Machias Seal Island?

‘Wouldn’t we feel silly?’
The answer lies in the 720 square kilometres of water around the island in what’s called a grey zone. Lobster fishermen from both Canada and the U.S. fish these waters.

“The fishing community on Grand Manan is permitted to fish there on an open-end basis and it’s our way of laying our claim to this water that is part of the Machias Seal Island dispute,” said MP John Williamson, who represents the riding of New Brunswick-Southwest.

Williamson said the island is considered to be in his riding.

‘I think our claim is sound and is legitimate.’ —MPJohn Williamson
“I think our claim is sound and is legitimate, but at the end of the day it’s going to come down to the minister in this country and the administration in Washington to settle it,” he said. “I think it is in the interests of both of our countries to do that.”

That feeling is echoed by Stephen Kelly, a professor at the Center for Canadian Studies at Duke University and a retired American diplomat who has served in Canada.

“It just strikes me if we have this opportunity to remove a potential irritant going forward, why don’t we take it?” Kelly said in an interview from his office in Durham, N.C.

Kelly put his thoughts in a commentary for The New York Times last month, which he said he was prompted to write after seeing territorial disputes that have erupted between Japan and China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

He said while the situation between Canada and the United States is much different, land disputes are better settled.

Machias Seal Island

“What if some valuable resource is discovered in the grey zone around Machias Seal Island? What if some other contingency that we can’t imagine now of strategic importance comes along?” he asked.

“Wouldn’t we feel silly that we didn’t take the opportunity to resolve this when the stakes were relatively low.”

 
Irrelevant for lightkeeper

For Ralph Eldridge, a Canadian who has been a lightkeeper on the island for the last 16 years, the question of who owns Machias Seal Island is a “non-issue,” something that is never a question from the visitors who travel to the island each summer.

And Eldridge said he doesn’t have to produce his passport to go there.

“But neither does someone from the United States or China or Japan or Spain have to when they come to the island,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said ownership of the island and surrounding waters is clear as far as Canada is concerned: they are Canadian.

“Canada’s sovereignty over Machias Seal Island and sovereign jurisdiction over the 210 square nautical mile surrounding waters is strongly founded in international law,” Barbara Harvey said in a statement.

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In the Media
Op-Ed: Canada and US dispute ownership of small rocky island
Digital Journal By Ken Hanly Dec 25, 2012 in World

Tourist comes to Machias Seal Island during the summer to see birds such as the Atlantic Puffin.

Machias Seal Island is a tiny rock island 16 kilometres from the coast of the US state of Maine and 19 kilometers south of Grand Manan Island just off the coast of the Canadian province of New Brunswick. The island is claimed by both Canada and the US.

Machias Seal Island has an area of just 8 hectares or about 20 acres. The island is a sanctuary for many seabirds including the Atlantic Puffin seen in the appended video. Visitors from around the world come to view the birds during the summer.
There are no permanent residents of the island although there are lighthouse keepers who come in pairs and stay four weeks at a time. The lighthouse is operated by the Canadian Coast Guard. The original lighthouse was built by the British in 1832. There has been a lighthouse maintained ever since. Many think that the presence of the lighthouse will give Canada a legitimate claim to the island. The United States has never had a presence on the island except in 1918 during the First World War when a small detachment of marines was posted to the island with Canadian agreement.

However in the past private citizens in Maine have claimed ownership of the island. There is a tour boat operator from Cutler Maine, who brings tourists to the island in the summer to view the birds. While there has been no oil or mineral resources discovered in the area, there is a large 720 square kilometres around the island called a grey zone. Lobster fishermen from both Canada and the US fish this area.

MP for New Brunswick Southwest , John Williamson said:
“The fishing community on Grand Manan is permitted to fish there on an open-end basis and it’s our way of laying our claim to this water that is part of the Machias Seal Island dispute.I think our claim is sound and is legitimate, but at the end of the day it’s going to come down to the minister in this country and the administration in Washington to settle it. I think it is in the interests of both of our countries to do that.”

Unfortunately an earlier decision of a joint commission in 1817 did not decide the ownership of Machias Sea Island even though it did decide that of other islands in the area including Moose, Dudley, and Fredericks Islands that are now owned by the US and also Grand Manan island that now belongs to Canada.

Stephen Kelly of Duke University and a retired US diplomat thinks that it would be a good idea to resolve the issue.

“It just strikes me if we have this opportunity to remove a potential irritant going forward, why don’t we take it. What if some valuable resource is discovered in the grey zone around Machias Seal Island? What if some other contingency that we can’t imagine now of strategic importance comes along?Wouldn’t we feel silly that we didn’t take the opportunity to resolve this when the stakes were relatively low.”

Ralph Edlridge, who has been a light-keeper on the island for 16 years, thought ownership was a non-issue. Neither he nor anyone else who comes to visit the island has to worry about showing a passport whether they come from Maine, Canada, China, or Spain he said. Barbara Harvey a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and International Trade said that as far as Canada is concerned the island is Canadian: “Canada’s sovereignty over Machias Seal Island and sovereign jurisdiction over the 210 square nautical mile surrounding waters is strongly founded in international law.” Some residents of Maine may not agree.

This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com

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December 28, 2012

Private Island News (P.I.N.) ISLAND ISSUES
Canada: The Little-Known Island Dispute Over Machias Seal Island

Image of Machias Seal Island from www.unb.ca

Along the border of the Canadian province of New Brunswick and the American state of Maine sits a small rocky island caught between the two countries.

An almost endless number of headlines have been made in recent months over the (at times heated) conflict between Japan and China over the ownership of a small group of islands in the East China Sea.

Due to the nature of islands, often found along inexact maritime boundaries, ownership disputes are not uncommon – but few of them tend to make headlines. A recent article has shone a spotlight on one of these lesser-known tales, involving a lighthouse isle along the Canada/USA border.

Found at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, Machias Seal Island is an unassuming rocky outcropping of less than 20 acres, with only a lighthouse tower and outbuildings raised above its flat, barren surface. This modest appearance may be why the island was overlooked during the latter part of the 18th century, when Britain and the newly-formed United States were defining their territorial boundaries. Surprisingly, the intervening centuries have done little to resolve the question of just who owns the island.

While the dispute over Machias Seal Island has remained a friendly one, it has heated up in recent decades. Unlike in the case of Japan and China’s battle over the Diaoyu/Senkaku archipelago, there are no rich offshore oil and gas reserves at stake, however, there is a vibrant lobster fishing industry in the indeterminate “grey zone” of the surrounding waters.

Image of island’s lighthouse from www.ccg.gc.ca

“It’s very congested,” said the head of local fisherman’s association. “It’s a very hard area to fish. The Americans think it’s theirs; the Canadians think it’s theirs, and nobody gets along all that well.”

Canada has, thus far, maintained the upper hand in the conflict – despite an elimination of full-time staff from lighthouses on the East Coast to cut costs, the building on Machias Seal Island bears the distinction of being the sole remaining non-automatic lighthouse in the region, a contiguous occupation that stretches back two centuries.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has been willing to foot the Coast Guard’s bill for the live-in staff, giving only the explanation that it is for “sovereignty purposes”.

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Island fever – December 21, 2012

The Chinese are at it. The Japanese are at it. The Brits and the Argentines are at it – all squabbling over small islands. There is even speculation that the US and Canada will revive their long-running dispute over little Machias Seal Island.

When large states are feeling small, it seems, small islands loom large. This is true not just of tiny, uninhabited outcrops. Independent and semi-independent islands are in the limelight too.

One reason for this is clear. Entitled to many of the same rights as large states, but without the same responsibilities, these islands pose an outrageous challenge to the international order and need to be brought back under control.

It is not just their tax practices, although this is the issue that currently defines the EU’s agenda. By selling passports to anyone passing, islands help criminals change identities and travel the globe undetected. And by conferring diplomatic recognition upon renegade countries, islands endanger global security.

There is a second reason too: entitled to many of the same rights as larger states, but without the same responsibilities, small islands are an outrageous challenge to the international order, and are therefore extremely useful allies to big countries.

Thanks to the competition caused by their tax regimes, small islands can be helpful to large countries wishing to impose fiscal discipline upon their partners or just hoping to excuse their own tax practices. And by handing out passports to all-comers, islands can ‘liberate’ the business elites and political opposition of repressive regimes – saving big states the need to intervene.

Small islands are even credited with a diplomatic daring which larger countries cannot afford to practice. Fearful of encouraging secessionist tendencies at home or of antagonising their international partners, large states are often too nervous to recognise breakaway countries. Small islands go where large states fear to tread.

This ambiguous status in an international system made for big players gives islands a significance quite disproportionate to their size. Take for instance Nauru (population: 9,000; size: 21 square kilometres; distinguishing features: looks from above suspiciously like a treasure island).

For years, China and Taiwan were locked in competition for Nauru’s diplomatic loyalty, with Nauru reportedly allowing itself to be bought first by one side then the other. Indeed, in 2002, when the Taiwanese president rocked the world by supporting a referendum on independence, his move was viewed as a reaction to Nauru’s sudden switch of loyalties to the People’s Republic.

The case of Nauru also shows how quickly islands can go from international pariahs to valued partners, depending on large states’ whims. In 2003, the US appears to have decided that the Nauruans’ passport-for-sale scheme was not a danger to international security after all. Just the opposite in fact: it offered a means to smuggle nuclear scientists out of North Korea. If reports are true, Nauru, the one-time bandit, suddenly found itself made deputy sheriff.

This special attitude towards islands – an attitude which does not seem to pertain to other small states – reflects the strong hold they exercise over the popular imagination. Blame that Christmas favourite, Treasure Island. For people living a routine mainland life, islands signify pirates or palm trees: they are either dangerous or alluring.

At one extreme are the harmless bores who view islands as a serious threat to international security and stability, can recite by heart the guidelines on good governance produced with a cheerful lack of irony by the EU, OECD or G20, and show an unhealthy interest in all forms of small-island deviance.

At the other are the escapists who see islands as an alluring alternative to mainland life and who secretly dream of seizing a rocky outcrop and establishing a libertarian utopia of their own.

Islands are thus either ‘unviable’ – incapable of sustaining themselves without cheating on big states, and ripe for depopulation – or an escape – ripe for repopulation by mainlanders. Acknowledging instead that islands are in fact entities in their own right, capable of responsible self-regulation – within the same context of global interdependence that affects all countries – might help avoid unfortunate situations like Nauru’s.

After all, if the reports about 2003’s ‘Operation Weasel’ are accurate, Nauru’s citizens had just succeeded in stopping their government from selling passports on grounds of good governance, only to see the US reintroduce the practice for them.

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Machias Seal Island–An Ongoing Border Dispute Between the United States and Canada

 

(Maps: Google Maps)

This is Machias Seal Island, a 20-acre island in the Bay of Fundy.

You can’t see it? Let’s zoom in.

 

Hmm. That doesn’t help much. Let’s zoom in some more.

 

There it is! It’s a speck of land that barely appears on the map.


(Photo: Albnd)

You can see the lighthouse in the photo above. The island is inhabited by 2 human lighthouse keepers, a few seals…

 

(Photo: Thomas O’Neil)

…and lots and lots of puffins.

The ownership of Machias Seal Island is disputed by the United States and Canada. Canada is in physical possession of it, but the United States has not formally dropped its claim to the island.

I’ve previously written several posts about the development of the US-Canadian border, whichincludes weird exclaves. Ambiguity about the border even led to the creation of 2 short-lived nations.

 

(Painting by Benjamin West of the American delegation at the Treaty of Paris)

Although the United States and Canada now maintain a long, peaceful border, the placement of that border has been in doubt since the Treaty of Paris (1783) in which Britain recognized the United States as an independent nation. That treaty attempted to draw borders over unexplored lands. The authors did the best that they could with their knowledge of geography. But, alas, one of the descriptions for the border between Maine and maritime Canada was problematic. The treaty says that US territory includes:

all Islands within twenty Leagues of any Part of the Shores of the United States, and lying between Lines to be drawn due East from the Points where the aforesaid Boundaries between Nova Scotia on the one Part and East Florida on the other shall, respectively, touch the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean, excepting such Islands as now are or heretofore have been within the limits of the said Province of Nova Scotia.

I’ve bolded the parts of the text that are the source for the Machias Seal Island dispute.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the eastern border of Maine was of great concern to the British. Some British officials coveted what Americans saw as their territory, and vice versa. Control of the Bay of Fundy was of great importance to British commissioners at the Treaty of Ghent (1814), which ended the War of 1812.

 

(Photo: Thomas O’Neil)

Now back to Machias Seal Island. The American argument is that it lies within 20 leagues (approximately 69 miles) of the coast of the United States.

The Canadian argument is that a land grant that pre-exists the Treaty of Paris defines the island as part of Nova Scotia. It built and has operated a lighthouse on the island since 1832.

Occasionally fishermen from the 2 nations have gotten into scraps about its ownership. Some Canadian citizens have staked mining claims to the island as a means of asserting Canadian sovereignty. The State of Maine has included the island on its maps of electoral districts.

But if possession is indeed 9/10ths of the law, then Machias Seal Island is Canadian. The United States has chosen not to press the issue.

Sources:
Clark, Edie. “Barna Norton Invades Canada.” Yankee 62.6 (1998): 48. Biography Reference Bank (H.W. Wilson). Web. 22 Apr. 2014.

Guo, Rongxing. Territorial Disputes and Resource Management: A Sourcebook. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2007. Web. Google Books. 22 Apr. 2014.

Kelly, Stephen R. “Good Neighbors, Bad Border.” New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed. Nov 27 2012. ProQuest. Web. 22 Apr. 2014 .

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