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Fisheries Jurisdiction Case, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland v. Iceland
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Type of document:
International court
Date of text:
July 25, 1974
Data source:
Court name:
International Court of Justice
Seat of court:
The Hague
De Castro
Jimenez de Arechaga
Sir Waldock
Reference number:
General list No. 55
ECOLEX subject(s):
Legal questions
The International Court of Justice considered a dispute between Iceland and the United Kingdom regarding a proposed extension by Iceland of its fisheries jurisdiction. Iceland failed to appear or to plead its objection in this case. In 1948, Iceland’s Parliament passed a law directing the Ministry of Fisheries to issue regulations establishing explicitly bounded conservation zones for fishing. A 4-mile zone was subsequently drawn in 1952. In 1958 this zone was extended to 12 miles, establishing a new 12-mile fishery limit around Iceland which was reserved for Icelandic fisherman. The United Kingdom did not accept the validity of the new regulations, and its fisherman continued to fish inside the 12-mile limit. After the 1960 Second United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, England and Iceland began a series of negotiations to resolve their differences, and in 1961 reached a settlement in an Exchange of Notes agreeing to a 12-mile fishery zone around Iceland. In 1971, Iceland decided to extend its fisheries jurisdiction to a 50-mile zone, and maintained that the 1961 Exchange of Notes was no longer in effect. These actions form the core of this dispute. The Court held that the 1972 Icelandic Regulations constituted a unilateral extension of the exclusive fishing rights of Iceland to 50 nautical miles. Iceland could not unilaterally exclude the United Kingdom from areas between the fishery limits agreed to in the 1961 Exchange of Notes. The Court decided that Iceland and the United Kingdom had to undertake negotiations in good faith to find an equitable solution to their differences concerning their respective fishery rights. The parties were to consider that Iceland was entitled to a preferential share in the distribution of fishing resources due to the special dependence of its people upon coastal fisheries, as well as the principle that each state must pay due regard to the interests of the other in the conservation and equitable exploitation of these resources. The court noted two concepts that had been accepted as part of customary law: (1) the idea of a fishery zone in which each state may claim exclusive fishery jurisdiction independently of its territorial sea, and that a fishery zone up to a 12-mile limit from the baseline is generally accepted; and (2) the concept of preferential rights of fishing in adjacent waters in favour of the coastal state which has special dependence on its coastal fisheries.
Available in:
UNEP Compendium of Summaries of Judicial Decisions in Environment-related Cases, Page 226