This week, a real war almost broke out in the English Channel, provoked by the decision of the island of Jersey to change the rules for fishing off its shores. Already on Wednesday, dozens of French fishing boats, as well as French and British warships, gathered around the island. However, unlike previous wars over fish in the region, this time it has not yet come to direct clashes.
On January 31, when the United Kingdom officially left the European Union, the Granville Agreement, which for two centuries established general fishing rights in the island area, also ended. It became invalid after the island of Jersey signed a trade and cooperation agreement between the UK and the EU after Brexit. And the French authorities had to agree on the new rules not with Britain, but with the representatives of the island.
France wanted to keep the terms of the previous agreement. Jersey wanted something different. The island’s authorities had 90 days to put forward specific conditions for a new agreement.
But instead, they simply announced the introduction of new rules for fishing in the region, and did so only on the evening of Friday, April 30, at the very last moment. At the same time, without notifying either France or the EU (which they should have done under the terms of a new trade agreement between Great Britain and the European Union). In fact, the island’s authorities have unilaterally introduced new requirements for foreign ships.
The reaction from the French authorities followed on Tuesday. Marine Resources Minister Annick Girardin said the Jersey authorities’ actions give France the right to retaliate. For example, stop supplying electricity to Jersey. Now almost 95% of the electricity needed for a normal life, Jersey receives from France.
On the night of Wednesday to Thursday, about 50 French fishing boats departed from the coast of France towards the island in order to block the port of the Jersey capital Saint Helier by morning.
Later, two French warships were spotted nearby, as well as two British warships. At the same time, both sides stated that the ships were sent purely to monitor the situation and ensure security. It seemed, however, that collisions could not be avoided.
But on Thursday evening, French fishermen unexpectedly left the territorial waters of Jersey. “The demonstration of strength took place. Now politicians have to get the upper hand, ”Dmitry Rogoff, President of the Normandy Regional Fisheries Committee, told the French TV channel BFM TV.
On the crest of the war
It is still unknown how the conflict between France and Jersey will end and what historians will later call it. But history already knows cases when the disagreements between French and British fishermen resulted in open confrontations at sea with the participation of warships. This is how events developed Great scallop war… It includes several episodes of clashes between anglers of the two countries in the English Channel: in 2012, 2018 and 2020. The cause of the war, as it is not difficult to guess from its name, was the scallops. More precisely, the difference is in the restrictions of the French and British legislation on their catch in the Seine Bay. As a result, the French mined them only from October 1 to May 15, and the British – all year round.
Offended by such injustice, the French on October 28, 2012 decided to take revenge on their competitors. About 40 French boats found 5 British fishing boats in the waters of the Gulf and attacked them, throwing stones and nets in the hope of damaging the propellers and engines of the enemy boats.
Even signal flares were used, which the French used to shoot at their enemies.
Fortunately, no one was seriously injured during the clashes. The British Marine Resources Management Organization notified the French authorities of the incident, which immediately sent a warship to the region, which stopped the fishing showdown.
After negotiations in 2013, the authorities agreed to amend the UK regulation of scallop fishing in the Gulf of Seine: now the fishermen of both countries were limited in time. True, this limitation did not apply to British fishing vessels less than 15 meters long. Therefore, the conflict was not settled there.
In 2018, the French National Fisheries Committee refuses to accept the renewal of this agreement, which meant the lifting of any bans for the British. On 28 August, about 35 French ships launch an attack on 5 British ships that have come to fish for scallops. And again stones, nets and flares are used. Two British trawlers are damaged. The British, pursued by French fishermen, leave for the English port of Brixham, where the Scottish oyster ship Honeybourne III is also involved in the battle of fishermen, which manages to damage three French boats with a ram. Further escalation of the conflict was prevented by the timely arrival of the law enforcement forces. British this time.
In the course of further negotiations between London and Paris, the parties agreed to extend the rules to British vessels less than 15 meters in length in exchange for the issuance of an additional catch quota to the British.
The war seems to have ended diplomatically. However, in the fall of last year, there were two more cases of clashes between fishermen of the two countries in the Seine Bay.
With stones, nets, flares – everything is as it should be in this war.
In both French and British history, there have been many disputes over maritime boundaries and fishing rights. However, all of them, with the exception of one case, were of an exclusively diplomatic and judicial nature. But this exception was included in history textbooks, books were written about him and even films were made. And the confrontation itself lasted almost 20 years – and this is not counting disputes and proceedings in various instances for several centuries. This is about Cod wars between the UK and Iceland.
The beginning of the Cod War is considered 1952, but it was preceded by a conflict between Britain and Denmark, which controlled Iceland until 1944. In 1893, the Danish authorities unilaterally closed the 50 nautical miles (93 km) zone around Iceland and the Faroe Islands to foreign fishermen. The British government refused to comply with the Danish demand, as it caused significant damage to British fisheries. British vessels continued to fish off the coast of Iceland, where they fished mainly for cod (hence the name of the conflict).
Attempts to find a compromise solution lasted several years, but ended in vain.
And in April 1899, the first military clash happened: the Danes tried to detain the British trawler Caspian off the coast of the Faroe Islands, and the captain of a fishing vessel even boarded a Danish patrol ship. But the crew of the trawler, according to the preliminary order of the captain, did not give up and took the ship away. The Danes, who opened fire on Caspian, could not stop him. And the negotiations that followed this incident ended with the signing of an agreement in 1901 establishing the width of Iceland’s territorial waters at three miles, which was in line with the doctrine of the high seas, which had been in force since the 17th century around the world.
The seemingly resolved conflict erupted with renewed vigor after Iceland gained independence. Now the island itself controlled its territory and in 1952 announced the expansion of the forbidden waters for foreign fishermen from three to four miles (from 6 to 7 km). Britain first imposed sanctions on Icelandic fishermen in retaliation, forbidding them to unload fish in British ports, and then went to the International Court of Justice to resolve this dispute.
Most likely, this conflict would have remained behind the more powerful Great Britain, if the USSR had not suddenly intervened in it first, seeking to increase its influence in Western Europe and agreeing to buy Icelandic fish, and then the United States, which did not want the growth of the influence of the Soviets in Europe.
The Americans, following the Soviet leadership, also agreed to buy Icelandic fish and persuaded Spain and Italy to do the same. As a result, Britain’s sanctions policy failed, and it had to admit the expansion of Iceland’s exclusive economic zone.
Another escalation of the conflict occurred in 1958, after Iceland announced a new expansion of the exclusive fishing zone from 4 to 12 miles (up to 22 km). At that time, many countries wanted to expand their maritime borders, and this issue was even brought up for discussion at the UN in the framework of the first ever conference on the law of the sea, but the debates there did not lead to any formal agreements. Therefore, Iceland has decided on the border of the fishing zone unilaterally. Britain could not make concessions to the island for the second time, and therefore announced that from now on, British fishermen would fish in the waters of Iceland under the protection of the navy. Fishing off the coast of Iceland has turned into a full-scale military operation with systematic clashes between military and fishing vessels of the two countries.
Iceland’s insolence was not supported by either the UN or NATO. The military power of Great Britain significantly exceeded the Icelandic one. It seemed that this time the situation would be resolved in favor of a power accustomed to rule the seas. But the Icelanders again outwitted their rival, and the outcome of the confrontation was again decided by the United States. Iceland threatened to withdraw from NATO and expel American troops from the island. The American leadership immediately put pressure on the UN, which held another conference on the law of the sea, after which Great Britain agreed to recognize in February 1961 the expansion of Iceland’s exclusive economic zone to 22 km. British fishermen got only a few concessions.
In 1972, the Icelandic leadership will actually repeat the same maneuver in order to expand its borders to 50 nautical miles (93 km). British resistance was even more fierce, with a total of 32 British frigates entering the disputed territories during this phase of the conflict. But, like a decade before, the outcome of the confrontation was decided in the NATO offices, and again not in favor of Britain.
And in 1975 Iceland will announce the next stage of expansion of its special economic zone – up to 200 nautical miles (370 km from the coast).
The third stage of the Cod War was the most fierce in terms of battles between the Icelandic coast guard and British naval sailors.
The balance of power, as always, was in favor of Great Britain. British interests in Icelandic waters were defended by 22 destroyers, 7 auxiliary vessels and 6 fortified tugs. Whereas Iceland had only six patrol ships. But as soon as the Icelandic leadership started talking about leaving NATO, closing the American military base and buying patrol ships from the Soviet Union, the dispute was immediately resolved according to the old scheme. So Iceland still lives with a 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
For the entire time of the Cod Wars, Iceland lost one person in the battles – an engineer who performed welding work on one of the ships after a collision with a British destroyer. During the work, the compartment where the engineer was located was flooded with water, and he received an electric shock from the welding equipment.
British losses were not calculated in lives, but in money. The costs of repairing the ships alone amounted to £ 1 million – what can we say about the lost profits from fishing and thousands of jobs.