Featuring death threats and accusations of sabotaging lines, stealing gear, and setting traps atop those already in the water, “Lobster War: The Fight Over the World’s Richest Fishing Grounds” is a film about the conflict between the United States and Canada over waters that both countries have claimed since the end of the Revolutionary War. This must-watch, award-winning feature-length documentary film, which is not rated, is playing at Damariscotta’s Lincoln Theater on Thursday, Jan. 17 at 2 and 7 p.m.
The U.S. and Canada have long shared the world’s longest peaceful border, but a centuries-old conflict over 277 square miles of disputed, increasingly lucrative waters known as the Gray Zone has sown discord and threatens to shatter the tranquility between the neighbors.
These waters were traditionally fished by U.S. lobstermen until a decade ago, when the rapid warming of the Gulf of Maine and the surging value of lobster began to attract more Canadian fishermen. Both countries now allow their lobstermen to fish there, though each claim exclusive ownership of the waters.
The conflict began at the end of the Revolutionary War, when the newly independent colonies received all islands within about 70 miles of the U.S. shore. But the 1783 Treaty of Paris excluded any island that had been part of Nova Scotia. The two sides emerged from that deal disputing only one speck of land at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy: Machias Seal Island, a treeless, 20-acre rock about 10 miles from the Maine coast and 12 miles from Grand Manan Island, which is part of New Brunswick. Both Canadian and U.S. officials insist their countries should have sole sovereignty over the area.
American and Canadian law enforcement authorities, who cooperate and speak with each other regularly as they enforce their respective laws, have worried about the potential for violence.
“This is a ticking time bomb out here,” said 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.”
As a result, the Maine Marine Patrol has quadrupled the amount of time its officers patrol the Gray Zone, especially at night, when Canadian laws allow their lobstermen to fish but Maine bans theirs from working.
Directed by David Abel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at The Boston Globe, and Andy Laub, an award-winning documentarian, the film interviews players in the industry in close proximity on both sides of the border. “Lobster War” won the 2018 award for Best New England Film at the Mystic Film Festival and was runner-up for the grand prize for Best Feature Film at the 2018 International Maritime Film Festival.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for Lincoln Theater members and youth age 18 and under. They are available starting one hour before showtime. Go to lcct.org or lobsterwar.com for more information.