Yesterday was a bank holiday. Although officially to commemorate Whit Monday, a part of me suspects that Icelanders were celebrating a different holiday: the 30th anniversary of the end of the Cod Wars, which took place on 1 June. Perhaps some of you Icelandophiles also organized your own celebrations to recognize this big day.
For those of you feeling bemused, a brief history lesson: On three occasions from 1958 to 1976, Iceland was involved in international disputes regarding the size of its fishing limits and access to the riches of the sea (like cod) hidden therein. The last Cod War (… to end all Cod Wars?) occurred in 1975-76 after Iceland unilaterally expanded its fishing limits to 200 nautical miles. The British government objected, sending naval warships up to protect its trawlers who were fishing in the disputed region. The battle part involved numerous collisions. Miraculously, the only fatality was a man who was hit by a wave when repairing damages caused by an earlier collision. This Cod War remains the only occasion when two NATO member states have broken diplomatic relations.
Iceland is proud to announce that it won the Cod War (since international law now recognizes the 200 mile limit), and uses the David versus Goliath analogy to entertain school children and remind anyone who might listen that even the small can achieve mighty goals.
It turns out that increasing the fishing limits was also good environmentally. British shops now regularly stock Icelandic cod because it has been caught from more sustainable stocks, while regions like Newfoundland have suffered profound economic difficulties as a result of over-fishing. (I spent my honeymoon in Newfoundland and a local shopkeeper compared the two regions’ reliance on fishing: “Iceland is like Newfoundland except it has its shit together,” he said succinctly.)
Iceland commemorated its glorious victory in grand style: with a conference attended by various academics, politicians and bureaucrats and a big souvenir supplement in Morgunbladid newspaper. Next weekend is the annual Sjómannadagur (“Seamen’s Day”) and the merriment should really kick off.
For my own part, I returned to the other side last weekend, where I attended a wedding in Hull, England, one of the towns most afflicted by the cod wars. Fortunately locals were willing to overlook past transgressions and the wedding’s friendly bartender was still willing to drive us all back to the hotel after we failed to book at taxi in time.
I returned home to the North Atlantic to the news that Prime Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson had just resigned, Standard & Poor’s had revised their assessment of Iceland’s economic situation to negative, and Víkingur football club beat big rival Valur 3-1.
The cod is now moving to the history books. But that’s alright; we only eat haddock here anyway.