Nobody Takes Another’s Fish out of the Sea: The Cod War with Britain

Icelanders have not only quarrelled amongst themselves about the crucial resources which they draw from the ocean. For a long time, foreign nations have sought access to Icelandic fishing areas, among them the British. The Icelandic struggle to have sole use of the fishing grounds around Iceland took shape at the beginning of the twentieth-century, when it became clear that ocean resources were not inexhaustible. With this in mind, since 1901 when it was decided that it would be three miles, the exclusive fishing zone was extended in stages.
    After the Second World War, just as Iceland was developing its fishing fleet, the Icelandic fishing grounds were subjected to very high use by the fishing nations of Europe. The consequences were soon evident. Indeed, the ocean fish stocks were so drastically reduced that it was clear that they would be in a perilous state unless radical steps were taken. The first of these came in 1948 when a law regarding the scientific protection of the fish stocks on the continental shelf was passed. At the same time, the United Nations began to revise national regulations concerning the continental shelf and the extent of territorial waters off the coast.
    Iceland continued to extend its territorial waters in stages with little gratification on the part of the British who sent naval vessels to escort their fishing ships. There were frequent clashes at sea between the British and Icelanders, and Icelandic patrol boats were equipped with special cutters which could cut nets from the fishing vessels. The dispute went as far as a break in relations between the nations in 1975, when the territorial limit was extended to the current practice of 200 miles. Negotiations between the two nations (facilitated by the Chairman of NATO and a Norwegian Minister) took place in 1976, since which time things have been calm and quiet.
    With the signing of the United Nation’s international treaty of the sea in 1985, the international regulation of the fishing boundaries came to a close and Iceland’s 200 mile exclusive economic zone was granted.
    Now Icelanders fish in different oceans of the world, far beyond their own territorial waters.