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They’re worried about will this happen again to other Americans during the summer

Lawmakers question St. Lawrence boat seizure

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Lawmakers on both sides of the border are looking for answers after a fisherman's boat was seized in Canadian waters on the St. Lawrence River.

Canadian border agents said U.S. citizen, Roy Anderson, didn't check in at a port of entry. They fined Anderson a thousand dollars.

But Anderson's boat wasn't docked or anchored. Lawmakers say requiring boats that drift across the international border to check in would wreak havoc on the fishing and tourism industries. David Sommerstein reports.

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Roy Anderson, a 22 year-old angler from a Syracuse suburb, was fishing in the Ganonoque Narrows on the St. Lawrence River last month. It was Anderson and his dad’s favorite spot.  They spend every summer in nearby Thousand Islands Park. 

Anderson had purchased a Canadian fishing license, but that wasn’t enough when Canadian Border Services agents boarded his boat. The agents forced Anderson to pay a thousand dollar fine or have his boat seized because he didn’t check in with customs upon entering Canadian waters.

It’s widely known that boaters have to check in with customs when they dock or anchor in Canadian territory, but with an international line that winds in and out of a maze of islands, it’s been understood that just floating – or fishing - is different.

The story was first reported Friday in the Watertown Daily Times. The case has generated a buzz along the St. Lawrence and it’s gotten the attention of local lawmakers.

"People moving in and out of the border, drifting, fishing, they’re not intending to land in Canada, they’re not buying something in Canada and then coming back to the United States.  They’re simply drifting as they’re fishing," said Congressman Bill Owens, co-chair of the Northern Border Caucus in the House. He said the section of international law cited by the agents contains an exemption for boaters who float in and out of Canadian waters.

In a sternly worded letter to the Canadian Embassy, Owens said he was “baffled” by the episode. "From everything we can tell, it was a single incident, which seems strange if, in fact, this was a change in policy," Owens said.

A change in policy would be “unacceptable and impractical” and could devastate the fishing and boating industries along the river, according to Owens.

State Senator Patty Ritchie also called for a review of the episode.  And she reached out to her Canadian colleague, Senator Robert Runciman of Ontario.  In a joint press release, Runciman called the incident “outrageous” and “sending the wrong message” as the summer boating season begins.

Ritchie says she’s already heard from anglers worried they might have to motor to customs every time they drift across the border.

"The Walleye Association had called me this morning to ask if I can intervene because they’re worried about will this happen again to other Americans during the summer," Ritchie said. "And I’m actually afraid this could put a real chill on U.S.-Canada relations."

Althougth the Canadian Border Services Agency didn’t return calls in time for this story, a spokesperson told the Syracuse Post-Standard last week that the Canadian agents don’t usually fine people but that it is a requirement for private boaters to report to a Canadian port of entry.

David Sommerstein, North Country Public Radio.


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