Anglo Icelandic Cod Wars

Iceland, an island nation, is poorly endowed with land-based natural resources. With no minerals to speak of, its main potential land-based resource lies in energy production from hydro-logical and geothermal sources. Its natural energy supply might be used to attract foreign industrial development to the country. However, the valuable resources that Iceland does not have on land are present in its coastal waters.

The biological productivity of the water above Iceland's continental shelf is very high, enabling the country's few hundred thousand inhabitants to prosper in an otherwise harsh environment. Fishing, fish processing and marketing have been the mainstays of the Icelandic economy this century, generating today more than 70 percent of its foreign exchange. No other nation has such a high level of dependence on fishing for generating its foreign exchange. This foreign exchange enables Iceland to import essential raw materials and consumer goods. Changes in the amount of fish landings directly and indirectly affect the health of Iceland's economy. In a speech to the UN General Assembly, Iceland's Foreign Minister, Agustsson, stated that "the fish in the Iceland area continue to form the foundation of our economy - a matter of life or death to our people" (Iceland Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 1976, p. 31).

Cod, Gadus morrhua, is the most important demersal species in the waters surrounding Iceland. Other exploited demersal stocks include saithe, redfish, plaice, and haddock. The UK and Iceland were the two major countries landing cod from these waters in the post-World War II period. It has been a popular fish in the UK marketplace and a target of British distant-water trawlers. An idea of the relative proportion of landings is provided by the following average percentages for the years 1954-56 of demersal catches in the waters around Iceland: cod (63.4%), redfish (14.0%), saithe (7.5%), haddock (7.5%). Cod landings from Icelandic fishing grounds between 1950 and 1987 are illustrated in Fig. 12.3.

COD LANDINGS FROM ICELAND GROUNDS

600 500

YEAR

Fig. 12.3 Landings of cod from Icelandic fishing grounds by Iceland and other nations.

Icelandic cod has been considered as relatively independent from other cod stocks in the North Atlantic. Tagging experiments, however, have shown that a significant number of adult cod migrate

COD LANDINGS FROM ICELAND GROUNDS

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Fig. 12.3 Landings of cod from Icelandic fishing grounds by Iceland and other nations.

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1960

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1985

1955

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1965

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from southern Greenland to Iceland and admix with Icelandic cod (ICES, 1976).

The abundance and characteristics of Icelandic cod stocks have fluctuated over time. Increases in abundance of cod were related to increases in temperature, noting that such increases were observed (from catch data) during a climate warming in the 1920s and 1930s (Bell & Pruter, 1958). It was also noted that other researchers suggested that the variation in cod landings might be the result of the way that catch information was collected and analyzed, and that cod stocks had in fact been relatively stable over the decade (Bell k Pruter, 1958, p. 645).

When Iceland became independent from Denmark in 1944, it had a three-mile territorial jurisdiction for its coastal waters. That limit had been four miles at the turn of the century but was reduced to three miles, as a result of a 1901 Anglo-Danish agreement that centered on Danish exports to British markets (Jonsson, 1982, pp. 37-9). In 1948 the Icelandic Parliament (Althing) passed the "Law Concerning the Scientific Conservation of the Continental Shelf Fisheries." The law proclaimed that Iceland's territorial jurisdiction extended not only over its coastal waters and seabeds but out to the limits of its continental shelf (Iceland Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 1976, p. 19), noting that "the Continental Shelf of Iceland is very clearly distinguishable ..." (see Fig. 12.4) and maintaining that "the coastal fisheries form an integral part of the natural resources of the coastal state ..." (Iceland Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 1976, p. 7). Different Icelandic governments, reflecting changes in domestic political coalitions, supported the assertion of Icelandic control over living marine resources surrounding the country, regardless of their conflicting political ideologies. While the various coalition governments might have preferred different tactics to secure control over fish populations on which their fishing industry depended, the strategic objectives of preserving the resource and increasing the share taken by Icelandic fishermen did not vary from one Icelandic government to the next. In retrospect, this law provided guidelines as well as a strategic objective for future Icelandic actions related to unilateral extensions of its jurisdiction over coastal fisheries in its surrounding waters.

Fig. 12.4 Icelandic stamp clearly showing Iceland's continental shelf. The first Anglo-Icelandic conflict

Fig. 12.4 Icelandic stamp clearly showing Iceland's continental shelf. The first Anglo-Icelandic conflict

An important impetus to Iceland's first unilateral extension of its territorial waters began in 1951 with the resolution of a longstanding Anglo-Norwegian dispute (one that originated in 1906) over the methods used to determine territorial jurisdictions in coastal areas. In mid-December 1951 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) supported Norway's methods for determining baselines (the use of rock outcroppings and reefs and not just the mainland) and, therefore, coastal jurisdiction. This decision enabled Norway to control the exploitation of marine resources in its own fjords, thereby excluding UK fishermen from these lucrative fishing grounds. UK fear about changing the traditional methods for establishing baselines in coastal areas stemmed not so much from the loss of Norwegian fishing grounds to its fleet but from the precedent that might be set for other nations to follow suit (see Bilder, 1973, footnote 263). As was the case with Norway, control over indentations in the coastline (e.g., bays) was also a major concern to Iceland. In this regard Iceland had tried to convene a meeting in 1949 to discuss Faxafloi (see Fig. 12.1) in order to establish control over foreign fishing vessels in this and other bays but, as the British refused to participate, no meeting was held (Alexander, 1963, p. 114).

In 1952, Iceland announced that its territorial jurisdiction would be extended to four miles. The UK protested, claiming that such an extension would adversely affect access to traditional fishing grounds by UK trawlers. The UK also feared that such extensions would follow elsewhere. While the UK's national economy was dependent on its fishing sector only to a very marginal extent, the economies of regions within the country, such as Humberside, would be affected in a major way.

Although some authors suggest that UK fishermen have fished cod on the Icelandic fishing grounds since the 1300s, it was not until the end of the 1800s that UK fishermen began to exploit Icelandic waters year-round. Technological changes in the fishing industry (e.g., the development of the steam trawler, improved deep-water trawling techniques, the use of ice to preserve catches) strengthened British involvement in distant-water fishing activities based primarily in Hull, Grimsby, Fleetwood, and Aberdeen (e.g., Barston & Hannesson, 1974). These ports were adversely affected by changes in access to cod in waters around Iceland. Although the fishing industry at the time made up only a small percentage of UK's national work force (0.09% in 1979), it had an inordinate degree of political power for the following major reasons: (1) employment and fishing revenue is concentrated in small, depressed, high-unemployment areas; (2) a small change in fishing revenue in these areas creates a large change in ancillary industries, such as shipbuilding, equipment manufacturing and supply, and fish processing activities; and (3) in UK's single-member, winner-take-all electoral system, fishing seats in Parliament can affect the outcome of an election (The Economist, 16 August 1980, p. 41).

In response to Iceland's 1952 extension, UK trawler owners based at Humberside ports led an "unofficial" UK boycott against Icelandic trawlers and fish products. As a result of the ban, Iceland could not sell its fresh and unprocessed fish in the UK. In response, it chose to expand its quick-freezing industry, increasing the value of its fish products, and to locate new markets (Gron-dal, 1971, p. 61). Thus, Iceland developed trade ties with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. By 1955 the USSR had become the largest single importer of Icelandic fish, replacing the UK as Iceland's second largest trading partner (Mitchell, 1976, p. 128). Recall that 1952 was in the middle of the Cold War era between the East and the West. Iceland, a founding member of the North

Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), developed a good trade relationship with the USSR and other Eastern European countries such as Poland and East Germany. A NATO ally dependent on trade with Communist countries created some concern among other members of the alliance.

The first Anglo-Icelandic dispute was settled in 1956, when the UK accepted Iceland's four-mile fishing jurisdiction, ending the four-year ban on Icelandic trawlers (Jonsson, 1982, p. 65). This particular unilateral extension did not adversely affect fish catches by UK's distant-water fleet, as British catches and catch per unit effort apparently increased shortly thereafter (see, for example, Iceland, 1958, and Fig. 12.3).

During this period representatives of developing countries were voicing a general concern that customary international law had been developed to support the status quo, that is, the dominant position of the major seafaring countries. One approach to redress this imbalance was a call for a UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The first UNCLOS conference was convened in Geneva in 1958. Iceland had hoped, if not expected, that lingering questions about fishing jurisdictions would be addressed and resolved in this forum. Inconclusive results, however, meant further delay on addressing the fishing jurisdiction issue, with major powers like the UK and Japan seeking to maintain the status quo ante (e.g., Akaha, 1985). The failure to resolve fishing jurisdiction concerns displeased the Icelandic government, prompting it to consider unilateral action once again. Iceland's representatives had said such action would be inevitable if the results of the Geneva conference were inconclusive.

The first Cod War

In 1958, the Icelandic government (apparently after considerable interparty debate) announced a new extension of its fishing jurisdiction, banning all fishing vessels from trawling within 12 miles of its coast. Passive gear, however, such as gill nets, long lines, and hand lines could still be used. Iceland, citing the "special case" doctrine of preferential rights of coastal states, claimed that its action was motivated by fear of the adverse impacts on its fisheries of the rapid growth in size and efficiency of foreign fishing fleets

(mostly as a result of technological changes in the distant-water fishing industry). According to Barston and Hannesson,

Post-war developments in the field of electronics, hydroa-coustics, net and hull construction, as well as freezer techniques have not only made possible sustained, larger catches for traditional trawlers but facilitated the construction and operation of factory type vessels (Barston & Hannesson, 1974, p. 559).

Icelandic leaders decided to take another step to protect increasingly endangered fish stocks in waters adjacent to its coast. (For a detailed discussion of the internal Icelandic political situation surrounding the 1958 unilateral extension, see Davis, 1963.)

The UK (along with a few other European countries) protested against the second unilateral Icelandic extension. This extension precipitated a conflict which came to be known as the "First Anglo-Icelandic Cod War," under great pressure from UK fishing interests (Gilchrist, 1978). While other European countries such as France, The Netherlands, and West Germany initially protested but later acquiesced, British Royal Navy vessels were used at considerable cost to escort its fishing vessels to the fishing grounds off Iceland. Iceland, however, remained firm with its demands and used its Coast Guard Service (all seven vessels) to harass UK vessels off its coast, seeking to gain UK acceptance of the new jurisdiction by making the economic cost of long-distance fishing prohibitive. Iceland once again increased its trade with the USSR and indirectly threatened the solidarity of the NATO alliance. The UK wanted to avoid the appearance of being Goliath in a David-and-Goliath situation and to^avert a schism in the alliance (Mitchell, 1976), and pursued legal arguments in its attempt to roll back the 12-mile jurisdiction, claiming that Iceland's action was contrary to international law. Following a few years of diplomatic maneuverings by the UK and Iceland, with Iceland steadfastly sticking to its original demands, the issue was resolved between themselves in Iceland's favor in March 1961. Three years later, in 1964, Great Britain established its own 12-mile fisheries jurisdiction (Jonsson, 1982, p. 110).

In the mid-1960s, concern about the fate of another Icelandic fishery emerged. The northern Icelandic herring stock collapsed abruptly. Whereas in 1960 more than 700,000 metric tons of her ring were caught in eight months, by 1968 landings had dropped to 65,000 metric tons. Iceland's economic situation drastically changed, as 40 percent of its export earnings came from this fishery. High unemployment occurred, and Iceland's per capita gross national product fell from third place behind the US and Sweden to about thirtieth (Jakobsson, 1988, p. 24). Jakobsson has noted that "The loss of the herring fishery was without a doubt the underlying reason behind Iceland's demand for a wide, exclusive economic zone in order to secure a higher proportion of the ground-fish resources on the Icelandic continental shelf" (Jakobsson, 1988, p. 26).

An assessment of cod landings at that time showed that foreign trawlers were taking about half the cod catch. Concern was raised about "foreign vessels" taking Iceland's "natural" resources away from Icelanders. Interest was heightened not only in protecting the cod stocks but in providing an increased share of landings to Icelandic fishermen (many of whom became unemployed as a result of the herring fishery collapse).

The second Cod War

While the Icelandic government had been relatively stable from 1959 onward, a leftist coalition took power as a result of the 1971 elections. This change in government prompted Iceland to announce in the fall of 1971 its intention to conserve the cod fishery and to increase the share of catches by Icelandic fishermen by once again unilaterally extending its fishing jurisdiction - from 12 to 50 miles (Hart, 1976, p. 19). This particular extension caught the UK off guard. While many states at that time already claimed 12 miles, and a handful had claimed 200 miles, few countries claimed any jurisdictions in between. Also, the UK believed that their previous Anglo-Icelandic agreement in 1961 had called for submission of any dispute to the ICJ for resolution. The new Icelandic government argued at the end of 1971 that the 1961 agreement had become null and void and "that [its] provisions do not constitute an obligation for Iceland" (Jonsson, 1982, p. 123).

While the UK blamed the change in policy on Iceland's leftist government and on the appointment of its new fisheries minister, a member of Iceland's Communist party, it appears that within the Icelandic government there was debate over how and when to extend the fishing jurisdiction, but not whether to do so. The UK and West Germany protested to the ICJ, but Iceland refused to be a party to the Court's proceedings (Dickey, 1974).

Following the passing of a 1 September 1972 deadline set by Iceland to enforce the new unilateral extension, UK Navy ships were sent to escort UK trawlers onto the contested fishing grounds. Again, the Icelandic response was to use its few Coast Guard Service vessels to harass UK vessels so that fishing in these distant waters would become unprofitable. This was accomplished, in part, by causing the UK to protect its trawlers and by Iceland unleashing a secret weapon: the trawlwire cutter, the sole purpose of which was to sharply increase the cost of fishing by severing the expensive trawls from the trawlers. This weapon was successfully used in 1972 and 1973 against UK and West German trawlers (Jonsson, 1982, pp. 134-7).

In addition, Iceland used its NATO affiliation and the NATO airbase at Keflavik as a bargaining chip to bring outside pressure on the UK to accept Icelandic demands. By threatening to close the Keflavik airbase, and by denying landing rights to the UK, Iceland was able to convince the US and other NATO allies that it was serious about pulling out of NATO (US News & World Report, 1973). Iceland's geographic location in the North Atlantic fills a gap in strategic defenses against Soviet naval activities. Without Keflavik, a serious flaw in NATO defenses would exist.

Support for the 50-mile fishing jurisdiction became a unifying theme in Icelandic domestic politics. After several conflicts at sea and bans on port visits of each other's ships, the second Cod War ended with the British once again giving in to Iceland's original demands. (For additional information on this conflict, see Hart, 1976.)

The third Cod War

In the early 1970s the Law of the Sea deliberations focused increasingly on the development of a 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In the midst of discussions about this trend toward an EEZ, Iceland once again unilaterally extended its fishery jurisdiction to 200 miles. This was done months before the Anglo-Icelandic agreement stemming from the second Cod War was to have expired. West Germany and Belgium accepted the extension. The UK opposed it.

Iceland and the UK relied on their old arguments to support their positions: Iceland pointed to the depletion of its demersal stock, about 50 percent of which was being captured by foreign trawlers, and underscored the importance of fishing to its livelihood; the UK cited the ICJ interim ruling prohibiting Iceland from extending to 50 miles. Thus began the third Cod War. To Iceland, "the British demands in effect amounted to expecting the Icelandic people to share their only resource with British trawlers and thus jeopardise their own economic survival" (Iceland Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 1976, p. 9).

Cod in the North Atlantic had been well studied for several decades. During the 25-year period that spanned the Anglo-Icelandic conflicts, both UK and Icelandic fisheries scientists relied on essentially the same catch data and stock assessments to support what politicians turned into diametrically opposed positions on the issue of overfishing (United Kingdom, 1958; Alexander, 1963; Burton, 1973; Iceland Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 1976, pp. 57-68). Despite the high quality of scientific information on cod, uncertainty exists in the way data are collected and in the nature of information about cod stocks (e.g., a reliance of proxy data to determine the standing stock). Thus, different conclusions could be drawn from the same pool of information, depending on how one emphasized the existing scientific uncertainties. In this instance, it became clear that scientific information, no matter how reliable, could be used by those who wished to do so to bolster nationalistic (political) positions on seemingly value-free scientific issues (Martin, 1979, passim).

A close look at the scientific arguments of the British and Icelandic scientists shows why the issue could not be resolved for the policymakers by additional scientific research on cod. To policymakers neither side could be proven wrong. As a result, politicians used the uncertainty inherent in scientific information to essentially challenge their opponents' views (whether or not they really disbelieved them), allowing politics, neither scientific objectivity nor the need for conservation, to determine the outcome of what had become a political (not scientific) conflict.

The British Navy was again sent into the contested zone to protect British trawlers from harassment by Icelandic Coast Guard vessels. Again, trawlwire cutters were used by Iceland. The mutual ramming of boats occurred (Fig. 12.5), and shots were fired. Iceland severed its diplomatic relations with the UK and threatened to withdraw from NATO, if hostile British actions did not cease. Iceland argued that the alliance was not protecting it from threats to its national security by another NATO member. What, many asked, was the value to Iceland of NATO membership and of the US-operated air base at Keflavik (Jonsson, 1982, p. 1738)? The conflict was resolved between the protagonists on 2 June 1976, once again in Iceland's favor.

Fig. 12.5 The 2,200-ton Lloydsman at full speed about to ram the 693-ton Thor with considerably reduced speed. (Caption and photograph from Iceland Ministry of Fisheries, 1975.)

The third Cod War (but the fourth Anglo-Icelandic fisheries dispute) clearly differed from earlier conflicts over fishing jurisdictions in Icelandic waters. For example, British resolve to oppose the 200-mile extension appears to have been considerably lower than its opposition to the extensions that led to the other Cod Wars. In fact, British fishing interests were calling for a 200-mile EEZ for the UK at the same time that they were opposed to Ice land's 200-mile extension (Jonsson, 1982, p. 181). In addition, the cost for protection of UK trawlers by the Royal Navy during the last Cod War, estimated at over £40 million, was more than double the value of the fish being landed from contested Icelandic waters. Also, revenue derived from these fisheries constituted a relatively small percentage of the UK's national revenue, although the impacts on individual UK ports were quite large. This point was highlighted in a UK workers' union report on fishing (Transport and General Workers' Union, 1980, p. 8) which noted that

Whilst it is the case that the fishing industry plays only a minor role in the UK's gross domestic product, it nonetheless plays a most important role in a number of peripheral areas of Scotland, England, and Wales, as well as being crucially important to a number of towns and cities, e.g., Peterhead, Aberdeen, Fleetwood, Hull, Grimsby and Lowestoft.

Ironically, several of the arguments used by Iceland against the UK during the cod wars were used by the UK in its negotiations for the development of a common fisheries policy for the European Economic Community (EEC) in the late 1970s.

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