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The Cod Wars

The first "war" occurred in 1958, when Britain was unable to prevent Iceland, from extending it's fishing limits, from 4 miles, to 12 miles, off Iceland's coast.

The Second Cod War

The second dispute was in 1972-1973, when Iceland extended its limits to 50 miles. This conflict was concluded with an agreement between the two countries that limited British fishing, to certain areas, would be allowed inside the 50-mile limit. In addition, Britain agreed that British vessels could not catch more than 130,000 tons of fish annually. This agreement was valid for two years and expired on November 13 1975, when the third "Cod War" started. 

The Third Cod War

Between November 1975, and June 1976, the cod, a common species of fish, brought two NATO allies to the brink of war. Great Britain and Iceland confronted each other over Iceland proclaiming its authority over the ocean, up to 200 miles from its coastline. The issue was the amount of cod caught by the two countries' fishermen.


During this conflict, British trawlers had their nets cut by Icelandic Coast Guard vessels and there were numerous rammings between Icelandic ships and British trawlers and frigates. The conflict caused Iceland to threaten to close the NATO base at Keflavik, which would have imperilled the NATO ability to defend the Atlantic from Soviet incursions. The picture left shows St. Gerontius ramming the Icelandic Coast Guard Vessel Odin. Note warp cutting gear towed from stern.

The conflict lasted for seven months. Britain did not recognize Iceland's authority to extend its control to a 200-mile limit and continued fishing in the disputed zone. Iceland employed six Coast Guard ships and two Polish-built stern trawlers, converted for Coast Guard work, to enforce her control over fishing rights. In response, Great Britain deployed 22 frigates, although only six to nine were deployed at any one time, seven supply ships, nine tug boats, and three support ships, (Miranda, Othello, and Hausa), to protect it's fishing trawlers. Miranda's story can be read here: The Miranda Website  The Picture right shows hull trawler 'Lord Jellicoe' rammed by Icelandic Coast Guard Vessel Aegir

Few shots were fired, but several ships were rammed during the conflict and some damage was inflicted, with a few injuries sustained. British frigates' bows were reinforced with wood planking. Declining fish-stocks precipitated Iceland's action, and as fishing was the main industry in Iceland, that was a major threat. Both sides agreed the stocks were declining but could not agree on the cause or a method of stabilizing the fish population. The picture left shows Icelandic Coast Guard Vessel Aegir after a clash with Lord Jellicoe.

The 200-mile economic exclusion zone was supported by various coastal states, including Great Britain, at UN conferences on the Law of the Sea, although it was not law yet. Iceland stated that it was merely enforcing what would soon be, an international law and that it was following precedents set by other nations. Great Britain stated that although the international system was arriving at an agreed 200-mile limit, Iceland had no right to unilaterally enforce the limit.

After a particularly violent collision incident, the UN Security Council was consulted, but took no action. The Nordic Council issued a statement of support for Iceland. NATO, and the USA, became involved, due to the threatened closure of the NATO base at Keflavik. The US offered to mediate, but it was NATO intercession that helped to end the conflict.

With mediation by the Secretary-General of NATO, Dr. Joseph Luns, Iceland and Great Britain were able to come to an agreement on June 2 1976. This agreement limited the British to 24 trawlers, from a list of 93, allowed inside the 200-mile limit at any one time. The amount of cod that Great Britain could legally catch was limited to 50,000 tons annually. There were four conservation areas that were completely closed to all British fishing. In addition, Icelandic patrol vessels were allowed to halt, and inspect, British trawlers suspected of violating the agreement. The duration of the agreement was 6 months, after which Great Britain had no right to fish inside the 200-mile zone. Right, ICGV Odin being shadowed by HMS Galatea

The British fishing industry, based on Icelandic fish, produced about 23.1 million pounds worth of catch. The agreement with Iceland caused about 1,500 fishermen to become unemployed, plus about 7,500 people on shore, also became unemployed.

Many thanks to The Miranda Website for the information and images for this article.

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