Lessons from the Cod Wars


By Walker D. Mills*

Atlantic Cod vary in color from grey to greenish-brown and can grow to be as large as five feet long (though this is uncommon). The fish have long been a staple of diets across the North Atlantic and fishermen have crisscrossed those waters from the Grand Banks off Newfoundland to the North Sea to bring back cod to their home markets.

Not once, but three times in the 20th Century, cod was almost the causus belli between Iceland and the United Kingdom in a string of events referred to collectively as the “Cod Wars.”1 The Cod Wars, taken together, make clear that issues of maritime governance and access to maritime resources can spark inter-state conflict even among allied nations. Fishing rights can be core issues that maritime states will vigorously defend.

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