During the 15th century, English fishermen began to frequent Icelandic waters in defiance of the Danish government in Copenhagen. In response, the first fishing limits at the coast of Iceland were set in 1598, when English fishing was banned in the area between the islands and the Icelandic mainland, and for a limit of about 18 km northeast of the islands. This limit was later set at 16 (29.65 km) or 24 (44.47 km) nautical miles. Enforcement was limited and English fishermen continued their fishing in Icelandic waters during the 17th century. In 1774, a Danish frigate was sent to guard the fishing limits, which were then regarded as 12 miles. However, during the 19th century the Danish government retreated from its stance on fishing limits, and warships sent to guard the fishing limits limited themselves to the 4-mile line. The Icelandic parliament held different ideas, and in 1889 it banned all fishing by trawlers within the fishing limits. Such a ban was mainly aimed at British fishermen, who had recently introduced steam-driven trawlers.
In 1901, the Danish and British governments came to an agreement that confirmed the 3-mile fishing zone. Additionally, the line of the limits was not set at the mouths of bays or fjords, with the result that the largest bays in Iceland became open fishing-grounds. This agreement was unpopular among the Icelanders, but it was not terminated until 1949 with the founding of the Republic of Iceland. On May 25, 1952, Iceland extended its fishing limits to 4 miles, and in the process closed large bays and fjords. The chief motivation was concern over depleted stocks of fish, notably cod. The United Kingdom, Belgium, France, and West Germany criticized Iceland's action, and the United Kingdom imposed repressive measures upon Icelandic boats, which were forbidden to sell frozen fish at British harbors. Attempts at negotiation by the Icelandic government, which was eager to avoid quarrels with a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally, proved fruitless, and the trade sanctions continued until 1956.
The Icelandic government planned further extensions of the fishing limits, but again possible repercussions for the NATO alliance led to a split within the government. In the end, those forces within the government that advocated a firm stance—led by the socialist fisheries minister Lu5vfk Josepsson (1914-1994)—prevailed, and the fishing limits were extended to 12 miles on September 1,1958. This time, the United Kingdom sent battleships into Icelandic waters to prevent the Icelandic coastguard from capturing vessels that had violated the new fishing limits. After the extension was enacted, the Icelandic government refused to negotiate on the question of fishing limits. However, a new right-of-center government formed in 1959 proved more willing to compromise, and in 1961 it reached an agreement with the United Kingdom. In this accord, the British government acknowledged the 12-mile limit, but received permission to fish in certain areas within the limits. The agreement allowed that further disputes among the countries be settled at the International Court of Justice in The Hague (the Netherlands), which had hitherto been hostile to the extension of fishing limits. The deal with the United Kingdom remained controversial in Iceland, and the opposition pledged to terminate the agreement.
A shift in political power occurred in 1971, one of the rare instances in Icelandic political history when control shifted directly from the governmental parties to the opposition. The new government, with Lu5vfk Josepsson serving as fisheries minister, set about to undo the work of the previous administration. On September 1, 1972, the Icelandic fishing limits were again extended, this time to 50 miles (80.5 km). This extension was contested by many nations, but only Britain and West Germany decided to resist the new limits. They appealed to The Hague at first, even though the Icelandic government did not acknowledge the International Court's authority in these matters. Then British and German fishing vessels continued to fish within the set limits under the protection of the UK's Navy. The Icelandic coast guard fought back using wire cutters that destroyed the British and German trawls. The European community placed trade sanctions on Iceland in support of its member states. By threatening to sever diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom, Iceland effectively endangered the NATO alliance, and talks were subsequently organized. The British and Icelandic governments reached a compromise, and British ships were allocated limited fishing rights within the set limits for a two-year period. No accord was reached with the West Germans, who continued to fish in Icelandic waters and kept tight trade screws on Iceland.
The third extension of the fishing limits took place on October 15, 1975, this time under a right-of-center government. Iceland again increased the fishing limit to 200 miles (322 km) an action the International Court of Justice refused to recognize. British trawlers continued to fish within the 50-mile limit, and when they came into conflict with Icelandic coastguard vessels, they were protected by British frigates. Again, the British relied upon a mixture of trade sanctions and naval power. Attempts to put the Icelandic coast guard vessels out of action were unsuccessful and often damaging to the British warships.
In February 1976, the Icelandic government finally made good of its threat and broke off diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom, although this rift did not last long. In May new talks were set in Oslo, Norway, with the Norwegian government acting as mediator. On June 1, the governments reached a settlement wherein the British agreed to withdraw its trawlers from Icelandic fishing grounds on December 1. West Germans left Icelandic fishing grounds in November 1977, following a separate agreement. Iceland had won the cod wars. However, the poor state of many fish stocks led to the introduction of a quota system in 1984.
See also Cod; Iceland Further Reading
Fleischer, Carl August, Fiskerijurisdiksjon; en unders0kelse av folkerettens regier om jurisdiksjonskompetanse, saerlig med henblikk pä fiskerisoner utenfor territorialgrensen, Oslo: J.G. Tanum, 1963 Jonsson, Albert, "Tiunda ^orskastriö 1975-1976." Saga, 19 (1981): 5-106
Jonsson, Hannes, Friends in Conflict. The Anglo-Icelandic
Conflict and the Law of the Sea, London: Hurst, 1982 Josepsson, Luövik, Landhelgismalid i 40 dr. Pod sem gerdist bak vid tjöldin, Reykjavik, Mal og menning, 1989 Karlsson, Gunnar, Iceland's 1100 Years. The History of a
Marginal Society, London: C. Hurst, 2000 E>or, Jon E>, British Trawlers and Iceland 1919-1976, Göteborg:
Göteborgs Universitet, 1995 Mröarson, Gunnlaugur, Landhelgi Islands med tilliti til fiskveida, Reykjavik: Hlaöbuö, 1952 E>orsteinsson, Björn, Tiu Porskastrid 1415-1976, Reykjavik:
Sögufelagiö, 1976 S®mundsson, Sveinn, Gudmundur skipherra Kjwrnested, 2 volumes, Reykjavik: Örn og örlygur, 1984-1985
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