Fishing disputes

Anyone old enough to remember the 'Cod War', which began in the 1950s and was resolved only in the mid-1970s, will realize just how bitter a dispute over fishing rights can become. Over three decades, Britain and Iceland intermittently exchanged angry words and several hard blows over the complex legal issue of where the lines of demarcation in the North Atlantic should be drawn. Both sides regularly deployed warships to escort their fishing vessels and deter the other side from harassing the crews, and on several occasions disputes nearly escalated into full-scale confrontation. On 11 December 1975, British tugs rammed Icelandic gunboats that had challenged their right to move through disputed waters, prompting one of the vessels to open fire with live rounds. Ships from both sides were damaged and retreated for emergency repairs amidst a flurry of accusations and counteraccusations. Six months later, relations between the two countries deteriorated once again when a British warship, HMS Falmouth, steamed at high speed into an Icelandic ship and almost capsized it.

It is just such a situation that could easily flare up in the Arctic's two main fishing zones over the coming years. One such area is the Barents Sea, where the competing legal claims made by Russia and Norway have already been closely looked at. The other is the Bering

Sea, which is famous for its harvest of salmon, crab, pollock, halibut and groundfish. Every year United States commercial fisheries take approximately $1 billion worth of seafood from these waters, comprising about half of America's national catch, while Russia's Bering Sea fisheries are worth approximately $600 million, amounting to about one-third of its own. In both cases, climate change could well either cause future disputes or else aggravate existing ones.

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