The Cod Wars

Iceland gets HUGE

The Cod Wars

This is part of an ongoing series mapping the current landscape of space law - specifically, the application of modern Law of the Sea to space. A dramatic series of confrontations between Iceland and Great Britain came to define territorial rights to resources, which could set a precedent for space resource allocation.

The Story

The year is 1958

The Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas: coastal states have special rights to the living resources around them

Iceland: sick

Iceland: all the fish within twelve miles of us are belong to us

Great Britain: I mean that’s a little big, no?

Iceland: stay in your zone nerd


Iceland: and it’ll happen again if you cross the line!

the year is 1961

Great Britain: ok holy shit we won’t go within 12 miles of your shore we don’t want to smell your undercooked fish anyways

Iceland: great. you can come in once to get your shit out of my apartment.

Great Britain: if you make any more issues then we go to the international court of justice

Iceland: yeah whatever


Iceland: ok new limit just dropped, it’s now 50 miles, you can’t be within 50 miles of us

Great Britain: files in the ICJ

ICJ: Iceland can you like not enforce the 50-mile limit until we settle the case 🥺🥺🥺

Iceland: I can’t hear you from all the way over there 50 miles away haha

Great Britain: throws tomatoes at Iceland

1974: The Fisheries Jurisdiction Case

ICJ: Ok Iceland you have preferential rights but not unilateral rights to your coastal fisheries zone. That means you HAVE to play nice with your brother

ICJ: So no stepping on Great Britain’s foot outside the original 12-mile zone and you guys have to come to a bilateral compromise

ICJ: ok?


Iceland: extends fisheries zone to 200 fucking miles from the coast

Great Britain: slaps Iceland

Iceland: slaps Great Britain

NATO: Great Britain you gotta leave Iceland alone we really like to stash our nuclear submarines in between you guys*

Great Britain: fine. but I ALSO get a 200-mile fisheries zone.



The Law of the Sea Convention: an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) 200 miles from the coast is now standard. A coastal state has sovereignty over its territorial sea, which stretches up to 12 nautical miles from the coastal baseline.

Note the differences between the territorial sea and the EEZ:

Back to Space Things

This case has particular relevance to the challenge of ownership and control of space resources and territory. How can we determine who has the rights to the mineral or liquid deposits on the moon or an asteroid? What about special features like water plumes and cryovolcanoes? And just like cod, everything in space is constantly moving around! A comet that’s near Earth on Monday might be closer to Neptune within the year. So who gets the rights to the water on the comet? What about orbits - how far up does Earth’s territorial space go? To the moon? Beyond the moon? Or just 200 miles?

*Oh yeah, Iceland had the balls to threaten to pull out of NATO during the ACTUAL COLD WAR. Like this whole Cod Wars side quest tantrum-type shit was going on during the REAL, ACTUAL, NOT A JOKE COLD WAR which involved NUKES and not just this:

Okay, well it also involved that, but with nukes.

The Corfu Channel