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Cod wars April 17, 2018

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Meanwhile, on a Brexit books theme English Uprising: Brexit and the Mainstreaming of the Far Right, by Paul Stocker is a far better and more sobering read than that mentioned yesterday. Not least for the excellent analysis of the toxic media environment on immigration in the UK in the 1990s and after and how that helped exacerbate prejudices that in part led to the referendum outcome.

But a single throwaway line also caught my attention. Stocker examines in the book some of the areas where the Lexit vote was highest and gives a near constituency by constituency analysis of the dynamics at play. Strikingly he notes that in almost all those areas immigration was actually half or less of the national UK average. And for all the claims that the BLP wouldn’t talk about it one BLP MP notes that during the referendum campaign that was all she talked about.

Be that as it may it looks at Grimsby…

Jarvis’s Labour college in Great Grimsby, Melanie Onn MP, similarly argued that the high leave vote of just under 70 per cent was guided by the perception of the area’s decline and a feeling that people weren’t being listened to. Grimsby’s North Sea fishing industry was once recognised as one of the largest and most dynamic in the world. It fell into terminal decline after the Second World War. The ‘cod wars’ of the 1970s, where Britain fought Iceland (and lost) over North Sea fishing rights further compounded its demise. A way of life was subsequently wiped out, and Grimsby, a town almost wholly geared to the fishing industry, has been unable to replace it with anything sustainable.

What caught my eye was the sentence about the ‘cod wars’. Stocker doesn’t go any further into the issue but the framing is interesting because there’s a fundamental reality about those events that shows how skewed from reality much of the Brexit debate was, and indeed how those fishing communities were let down, and not simply in terms of economically but also by that reality not being more clearly presented.

Or take this piece here in the Guardian.

What happened to Britain’s fishing fleet?
The distant water fleet that once sailed out of Aberdeen, Fleetwood and the Humber for fishing grounds around Iceland, the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and the Arctic was decimated in the 1970s after a change in international law established exclusive economic zones (EEZ) up to 200 miles around coastal states. After the final cod war with Iceland in 1976, Britain gradually lost access to these waters and saw a collapse in domestic fishing, even though consumer preference remained for white demersal fish like cod, hake and haddock rather than species more common to inshore waters.

Why did Britain lose control of its own EEZ?
When Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973, the introduction of the common fisheries policy (CFP) and a shared EEZ for the whole of the EU was largely based on existing patterns of fishing, which tended to favour continental fishermen who had stayed closer to home. In extreme cases that meant, for example, that the quota share for cod in the English Channel favoured French fisherman over British by nine to one. The UK government was seen as too weak to negotiate more favourable splits based on the actual stocks of its fish. It still has exclusive access to waters less than six miles from the coast.


What was promised by Brexit?
Departure from the EU was intended to restore the UK’s status as an independent coastal state in fishing negotiations. The agriculture secretary, Michael Gove, has pledged to withdraw from the 1964 London fisheries convention and take back control of the zone between six and 12 miles out. Withdrawal from the CFP and control of the remaining UK EEZ up to 200 miles (or halfway, in the case of nearby countries) was intended to follow immediately after Brexit on 29 March 2019. Britain then hoped to become like Norway, which conducts annual fish negotiations on equal terms with the EU while retaining access to its markets.

There’s a problem with all the above. Not least that two processes (and of course more but two particular ones were taking place). Firstly, entirely independently of the EEC there was a pushback by states such as Iceland who had, let’s be frank, seen their coastal waters pilfered by the British for decades prior to this. Secondly there was EU membership and allied with that (or in tandem with that) CFP and a broader international approach to fisheries and so forth. That it is now clear the UK government managed fishing particularly badly is also interesting. Not difficult to see how expedient it would be to divert attention by pointing at the EU. But what about that first process?

Wiki suggests that:

The Cod Wars (Icelandic: Þorskastríðin, “the cod strife,” or Landhelgisstríðin, “the wars for the territorial waters”[1]) were a series of confrontations between the United Kingdom and Iceland regarding fishing rights in the North Atlantic. Each of the disputes ended with Iceland’s victory.

It did indeed. It’s worth keeping in mind that the original territorial waters were set by Denmark and Britain in 1901, Denmark then governing Iceland, at 3nm. Through the latter part of the 20th century there was considerable effort by Iceland to extend its waters, first to 4, then to 12nm and then to 50nm. And then to 200nm. This last ultimately became the general limit of such waters although as can be imagined where islands or continents abut there’s problems. And these engendered very real conflicts – the so-called Cod Wars. I’m old enough to remember grainy footage of RN ships and Icelandic coastal vessels encountering each other and at times ramming each other. You’ll see a lot of that on YouTube.

Still it’s worth keeping in mind that Iceland won all those Cod Wars.

That this history is not factored in at all to the broad thinking on Brexit, or where it is mentioned at all it is decontextualised in favour of a narrative of British fishing being pushed back almost as if by magic simply due to EU membership is yet another example of how ill-informed these debates are. But my sympathy is with those who voted for Brexit in the context of all this. Given the narratives extant who could blame them? Who was seriously pushing back against what at best could be termed misrepresentation?


1. benmadigan - April 17, 2018

here’s an article from someone who seems to know what he is talking about at least as far as regards the Scottish fishing industry http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2018/04/03/on-scottish-fishing/

Liked by 1 person

2. An Sionnach Fionn - April 17, 2018

That’s all wee need. EU and UK fleets clanging hulls off Rockall! 🙂

Liked by 1 person

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