Tag Archives: Cod Wars

Age of Innocence – 1958, The Cod Wars with Iceland

Ross Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage Museum

Ross Tiger” by Grimsby Artist Carl Paul – www.carlpaulfinearts.co.uk

In 1958 Britain went to war – this time with Iceland.  The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to a new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.

The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland.  All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones.  This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions.  It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.

Eventually Britain and Iceland came to a settlement, which stipulated that any future disagreement between the two countries in the matter of fishery zones would be sent to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the Icelandic Minister Bjarni Benediktsson hailed the agreement as “Iceland’s biggest political victory.

cod war

But it wasn’t the end of Cod Wars because there was a second in 1972 and a third in 1975 when on both occasions Iceland further extended their territorial fishing waters without consultation and continuing to protect these is what keeps Iceland from joining the European Union even today.

I had no idea that when I visited Iceland that I was now there as a resident of the English fishing town of Grimsby which was once recognised as the largest and busiest fishing port in the world. The wealth and population growth of the town was based on the North Sea herring fishery but this collapsed in the middle of the twentieth century and so diversified to distant water trawler fishing targeting cod in the seas around Iceland.  The concessions that Britain made to Iceland as a result of the Cod Wars which put these fishing grounds off limit destroyed the fishing industry in the town.  It is said that many men who survived the sea came home without jobs and drowned in beer.

Today Grimsby is dominated by the fish processing sector rather than the catching industry. Processors are mainly supplied by over-landed fish from other UK ports and by a harsh twist of fate containerised white fish from Iceland.

There is a National Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby which is a museum including a visit on board a real Grimsby Trawler – The Ross Tiger.  It’s a museum well worth visiting and the last time that I went I learnt from the guided tour that ironically Grimbarians don’t particularly care for cod anyway and have a preference for haddock which they consider to be a superior fish!

Cod

It wasn’t only Grimsby that was adversely affected by the outcome of the Cod Wars and across the Humber Estuary the fishing industry in the city of Kingston-upon-Hull  was similarly devastated by the capitulation of the UK Government and also went into dramatic and irreversible decline.

In view of this in a previous post I expressed surprise that Reykjavik and Hull are official  ‘Twin Towns‘ but I suppose the arrangement may be an attempt at reconciliation and mutual understanding because this was one of the original principles of twinning which became a popular thing to do after the Second World War as people sought to repair shattered relationships with their neighbours

I have often wondered however what the process was for getting a twin town. Perhaps it was like the draw for the third round of the FA cup when all the names go into a hat to be drawn out with each other, or perhaps it was like the UCAS University clearing house system where towns made their preferred selections and waited for performance results to see if they were successful, perhaps it was a sort of international dating service and introductory agency or maybe it was just a nice place where the Mayor and the Town Clerk rather fancied an annual all-expenses paid trip!

Anyway, the city of Coventry started it all off and was the first ever to twin when it made links with Stalingrad in the Soviet Union in 1944 and is now so addicted to twinning that it has easily the most of any English town or city with a massive twenty-six twins.  That is a lot of civic receptions and a lot of travelling expenses for the Mayor of Coventry.  Earlier this year I visited another of Coventry’s twin towns – Warsaw in Poland.

Other significant events of 1958 included a revolution in Iraq that overthrew the monarchy, murdered the King and triggered years of instability in the Middle East which continues today; Charles de Gaulle became President of France, which was bad news for those wanting to join the Common Market and Nikita Khrushchev became President of the USSR, who although a liberal by Communist standards was the man who would later approve the construction of the Berlin Wall.

The UK Cod Wars with Iceland

In 1958 Britain went to war again – this time with Iceland.  The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to a new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.

The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland.  All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones.  This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions.  It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.

Eventually Britain and Iceland came to a settlement, which stipulated that any future disagreement between the two countries in the matter of fishery zones would be sent to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the Icelandic Minister Bjarni Benediktsson hailed the agreement as “Iceland’s biggest political victory.“  And it wasn’t the end of Cod Wars either because there was a second in 1972 and a third in 1975 when on both occasions Iceland further extended their territorial fishing waters and continuing to protect these is what keeps Iceland from joining the European Union even today.

I originally wrote this post about four years ago after visiting Iceland which was at a time when it never occurred to me that one day I would move home and live in the fishing town of Grimsby which by coincidence had a high profile role in the Cod Wars.

Grimsby was once recognised as the largest and busiest fishing port in the world. The wealth and population growth of the town was based on the North Sea herring fishery but this collapsed in the middle of the twentieth century and so diversified to distant water trawler fishing targeting cod, which because of the concessions that Britain made to Iceland as a result of the war destroyed the fishing industry in the town. It is said that many men who survived the sea came home without jobs and drowned in beer.

Today Grimsby is dominated by the fish processing sector rather than the catching sector. Processors are mainly supplied by over-landed fish from other UK ports and by a harsh twist of fate containerised whitefish from Iceland.

There is a National Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby which is a museum including a visit on board a real Grimsby Trawler – The Ross Tiger.  It’s a museum well worth visiting and the last time that I went I learnt from the guided tour that ironically Grimbarians don’t particularly care for cod anyway and have a preference for haddock which they consider to be a superior fish!

Weather Surprise in Iceland

The weather was a bit of a surprise because we had interpreted ‘Ice land’ rather literally and were expecting sub zero temperatures, snow and not unexpectedly lots of ice.

What we hadn’t taken fully into consideration was the effect of the gulf stream that delivers warm water from the Caribbean directly to the south of Iceland and thereby keeps the temperature unexpectedly mild.  Reykjavik is on a line of latitude 64° north which is approximately the same as Anchorage in Alaska and Arkhangelsk in Russia but whilst the average November temperature in these two cities is about -12° centigrade in Iceland it is only about  -1°.  Whilst you wouldn’t step out on the streets in Anchorage or Arkhangelsk without a warm coat, thermal gloves and a fur hat it really wasn’t absolutely necessary here today.  Additionally there are parts of the extreme north of Norway and Finland that are further north than Iceland but nobody sensible lives there and Reykjavik happens to be the most northerly capital city in the world as well as being the most westerly in Europe.  Iceland it seems is a most inappropriately named country.

Although the weather was a surprise there were some things that we knew about Iceland before we travelled; during the Second-World-War Iceland was occupied by Britain as a naval base to protect the North Atlantic convoys from the German navy, later Britain and Iceland fell out over fishing quotas and fought three bad tempered little cod wars in the North Atlantic between the 1950s and the 1970s, in 1972 Bobby Fischer and Boris Spasky played a famous world championship chess match that was billed as the match of the century in Reykjavik (Fischer beat Spasky on 31st August 1992) and that in 1984 there was a famous summit meeting here between Presidents Regan of the USA and Gorbachov of the USSR that signified improving relations between the two world super-powers.

Kim’s luggage had been misplaced by British Airways but we made do and went out for the day anyway and at the end of the day by the time we got back to the car it was dark and we returned to Reykjavik in anticipation of being reunited with the lost luggage.  I parked the car and we went into the hotel but the helpful desk clerk had some bad news for us.   This didn’t make Kim very happy at all and by some irrational twist of feminine logic it appeared that it is was all my fault now as well.  This wasn’t good and back in the room Kim sulked and I tried to keep a low profile and cut down on the silly quips that weren’t proving very helpful.

Eventually Kim cheered up and a couple of large glasses of red wine helped as well!  After she had chosen between the only two clothing options that were available to her, my vest and jumper or the clothes she had travelled here in, we walked out into the city again in search of a restaurant and a nice evening meal.  We found a hospitable Icelandic restaurant and we ordered seafood pasta and red wine and as we were past worrying about the cost of living in Reykjavik we thoroughly enjoyed it.

After dinner we walked back past the Cathedral and Leif Erikisson and there was some sleety snow falling and we became optimistic about the possibility of snowfall over night and white streets and icy conditions in the morning.  Back at the hotel Kim washed out her only pair of knickers and I made reassuring noises about the bag surely turning up tomorrow.

A Life in a Year – 1st September, The Cod Wars with Iceland

In 1958 Britain went to war again – this time with Iceland.  The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to a new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.

The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland.  All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones.  This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions.  It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.

Photo0052

Eventually Britain and Iceland came to a settlement, which stipulated that any future disagreement between the two countries in the matter of fishery zones would be sent to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the Icelandic Minister Bjarni Benediktsson hailed the agreement as “Iceland’s biggest political victory.”  And it wasn’t the end of Cod Wars either because there was a second in 1972 and a third in 1975 when on both occasions Iceland further extended their territorial fishing waters and continuing to protect these is what keeps Iceland from joining the European Union even today.

Interestingly, and perhaps a little surprisingly, Iceland is now one of the most prosperous countries in the World and according to the 2008 United Nations index on human development overtook Norway as the World’s most desirable country in which to live.  Following the Iceland economic crisis in 2009 it slipped back to third place with Norway back to top spot and Australia second and Canada and Ireland making up the rest of the top five. The place not to be is the sub-Saharan African states, which are firmly placed at the bottom of the league.