World Facts

What Were The Cod Wars?

The Cod Wars refer to a series of disputes between Iceland and the US over fishing rights in the North Atlantic.

The Cod Wars were a series of conflicts between Iceland and the United Kingdom over rights to fish in the North Atlantic. Iceland won in all the conflicts. The last Cod War was experienced in 1976, and it ended with the UK agreeing to relinquish a 200 nautical mile fishing zone to Iceland when Iceland threatened to quit NATO. If Iceland had quit NATO, NATO would have lost access to the GIUK gap which is an ocean opening between Greenland, UK, and Iceland.


The name Cod War was adopted in September 1958 by a British journalist. The cod wars were never full-scale wars, and only one person was reported to have been killed during the wars. There was a series of three cod wars which began in September 1958. As from the 15th century, British fishers were noted to be fishing in the international waters close to Iceland. Since the 19th century when the steam engines were introduced, boat owners felt the need to explore, and since the Icelandic waters yielded more fish, they frequented the region. In 1893, the Danish government, which at the time ruled Iceland and the neighboring islands, declared a 50 nautical mile fishing limit around Iceland’s shores but the British kept on fishing around the area.

The Three Cod Wars

The first Cod War ran from September 1958 to March 11, 1961. It began when Iceland set a law to increase its fishing zone from 4 to 12 nautical miles around its shores. The NATO members were against the set law, and Britain declared that its fishing vessels would fish in the region under the protection of their warships. Iceland, on the other hand, sent patrol vessels to protect their territory. Protests ensued in Iceland over Britain fishing in their waters while conflict between the vessels from the two states ensued at sea. Iceland was disadvantaged because they did not own superior sea vessels to man their waters, and it decided to threaten to defect from NATO, and NATO had to intervene in the conflict. In February 1961, Iceland and Britain came to an agreement that Iceland would retain its 12 nautical mile fishing zone, and Britain would be allowed fishing rights in specific areas located six nautical miles outside Iceland’s shores for three years. The second War started in September 1972 and ended in November 1973. The government of Iceland extended the fishing limits to 50 nautical miles. The West European states were against the extension while African states supported arrangement. Britain continued fishing in the contested waters and 1973, after several conflicts with Icelandic vessels Britain decided to deploy Royal Navy vessels to protect their fishing vessels at sea. The war ended in 1973 after NATO intervened and Britain was allowed to fish in select areas within the 50 nautical miles. The third Cod War began in November 1975 and ended in June 1976. The war begun after Iceland decided yet again to increase its fishing limits to 200 nautical miles. The third Cod War was the worst fought with Iceland cutting diplomatic ties with the UK and threatening to leave NATO. Through NATO’s intervention, peace was restored in 1976.

The End Of The War

The Cod Wars ended with Iceland maintain the 200 nautical mile fishing zone while the fishing industry in the UK suffered. As a result of the agreement between the two countries to end the Cod War, several UK citizens lost their jobs in the fishing industry, and the UK lost a prime fishing zone.

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