WASHINGTON — The State Department said Tuesday that Canadian border officers had the law on their side when they seized an American fisherman's boat and fined him $1,000 for fishing in Canadian waters without registering at customs.
In fact, they could have made him pay more, the department said.
In a statement, the State Department said the Canada Border Services Agency was acting within "long standing regulations" by penalizing Roy M. Anderson, the Thousand Island Park resident who was snagged by Canadian officers while fishing, unanchored, in a favorite spot in the Gananoque Narrows.
All foreign boaters must report to Canadian authorities upon arrival in Canadian waters regardless of whether they anchor their boats, the State Department said, echoing the Canadian government's position. North country boaters have long been under the impression they did not have to report unless they anchored.
But the only exception, according to the State Department, is for boaters traveling through Canadian waters from one U.S. point to another, and without stopping along the way.
In replying to questions about the issue, the State Department and the Canada Border Services Agency each forwarded a document outlining the Canadian policy, spelling out what sorts of trips do not require reporting.
"In-transit movement must be continuous, uninterrupted and without delays or stop-overs. Such movement could be for reasons of the shortest route, requirement of deep waters, evading obstacles such as bridges, etc.," the document states.
A spokesman at the State Department's Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Charles E. Luoma-Overstreet, said in a statement, "We understand that this case was handled consistent with long standing regulations. We refer you to Canadian authorities for further information."
The State Department's backing of the Canadians' approach comes as Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, challenges the CBSA's interpretation of the law and after New York officials asked the CBSA to refund Mr. Anderson his $1,000.
Mr. Owens also has been working with Canadian officials in Washington to clarify the policy and to explore whether the registration requirement stated by Canadian officials can be eased, said the congressman's spokesman, Sean Magers.
Although north country boaters have believed for years that they could venture into Canadian waters without reporting to authorities as long as they do not set anchor or tie up to a dock, the Canadians have taken a firm position that the impression is wrong.
The approach Canada has asserted since the incident with Mr. Anderson is that boaters who stop to float or fish must follow the same rules as those who go to Canada by recreational boat, dock and come ashore to shop or go to dinner, for instance.
And while boaters can check in with Canadian authorities by phone at 1 (888) 226-7277, they must use a CBSA telephone on land to do so. Those phones are located at some marinas and other locations, although in practice anglers might have to go out of their way to comply.
The call-in center runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Mr. Luoma-Overstreet said.
Reporting requirements have become familiar to residents who visit Canadian towns or simply stop by a friend's house on a nearby island in Canada, said Jennifer J. Caddick, executive director of Save the River, the environmental group in Clayton. But applying those rules to people who never intended to come ashore has people "scratching their heads" about what they thought the rules were and how the policy works in practice, she said.
Northern New York is not the only place where anglers will have to pay closer attention to the border — if they know where it is on the water.
Boaters on the St. Mary's River, near Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and the city by the same name in Ontario, can easily find themselves on either side of the border.
A fishing charter captain there, Travis M. White, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that the understanding among boaters on the St. Mary's is that "as long as you're not anchored, you're not on Canadian soil."
Mr. White said he heard rumors last season that Canada might tighten enforcement along the river, but told of Mr. Anderson's experience, he said, "We haven't had any issues like that."