12. Iceland and Britain fought a series of Cod Wars over fishing rights
Since the early 15th century British fishing boats visited the waters off Iceland. The number of boats and the size of the catches taken led to disputes with Denmark, which ruled Iceland, which varied in intensity for over 400 years. Several species of fish are found in the waters around Iceland, but the primary target of the British fishermen was, and remains, Atlantic cod. As early as 1414, the King of England, Henry V, received complaints from his Danish counterpart, King Eric, who reigned over the Kalmar Union of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Eric complained the British fishing presence was depleted stocks of Icelandic cod. Britain passed some regulations restricting British vessels, but the fishermen simply ignored them, and at the time, Britain lacked a navy sufficient to enforcing the law. Not that they were so inclined.
In the late 19th century Denmark claimed a 50-mile territorial limit around their possessions. Britain, by then possessed of the world’s largest and most powerful navy, ignored their claims. Danish gunboats stopped and fined British fishing boats, and newspapers and members of Parliament demanded the Royal Navy intervene. In both 1896 and 1897 the Royal Navy used gunboat diplomacy to protect British interests. The 1901 Anglo-Danish Territorial Waters agreement established a 3-mile limit around Iceland, and the proviso that the agreement would not expire for fifty years. The First World War, followed by the Great Depression and World War II, put the disputes over fishing rights on the back burner until 1949. Iceland, which had governed its own affairs since the German occupation of Denmark in 1940, decided to establish new rules governing foreign boats in its waters.