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Fisheries Overview

The South Georgia Maritime Zone covers more than one million square kilometres. It is home to some of the best managed, most sustainable, fisheries in the world. The Government oversees all commercial fishing within the zone and has a dedicated Fisheries Patrol Vessel operating year round to ensure that no illegal fishing occurs. In the face of overfishing and growing demand for food worldwide, South Georgia offers a model for how fishers, conservation NGOs, scientists and Governments can work together to deliver sustainable fisheries and environmental protection. The Government is continually reviewing its management practices.

Here is a summary of what we do:

  • The Government designated one of the world’s largest sustainable use Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in 2012 which seeks to protect the marine life and maintain ecological processes while allowing sustainable fishing to the highest international standards. Extending over 1m km2 the MPA was designated on the basis of scientific evidence and protects biodiversity through >20,000 km2 of no-take zones and temporal and spatial protection measures that protect 92% of the sea floor and prohibit all fishing within 12nm of South Georgia and 3nm of the South Sandwich Islands. See the Government’s submission to the 2016 UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee inquiry into Marine Protected Areas here;
  • The fisheries are managed under the auspices of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. The Government goes beyond the standards imposed by this international Convention meaning that it operates some of the best managed fisheries in the world. The South Georgia toothfish fishery received one of the highest Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certifications and is a model for how sustainable fishing and environmental conservation can work hand in hand – essential for tackling the emerging global challenges of environmental degradation, climate change and growing global demand for food. The icefish fishery is also MSC certified, as is a major component of the krill fishery;
  • The Government invests c.£1m in fisheries management and scientific research which helps to protect biodiversity each year. This underpins our precautionary fisheries management approach and Marine Protected Area. This investment is made possible as a result of revenue from our sustainable fishery. A unique collaboration between fishers, NGOs, scientists and Government means that no albatross are caught in the South Georgia fishery; this leadership has helped other nations improve their own fishery sustainability saving thousands of albatross each year. We are working actively with partners to improve fisheries management in other parts of the world;
  • The South Sandwich Islands are remote and little explored. Scientific research fishing takes place here which underpins the sustainability of the MSC-certified South Georgia fishery and deters illegal fishing which was previously common in the maritime zone. The MPA protects 1.3m pairs of Chinstrap penguins which breed here, one of the largest colonies in the world. The biggest current threats here are natural, arising from climate change, volcanic eruption and ice scour on the sea bed. We cannot protect against these but seek to undertake research and monitoring to inform our management;
  • All vessels are inspected by the Government before operations are permitted to begin. This ensures that our high environmental and safety standards are met. Unscheduled at-sea inspections are carried out by our fisheries patrol vessel to ensure compliance continues in the fishery. We introduced new requirements in 2013 to ensure safe operating practices and acceptable working and living conditions as set out in the 1993 Torremolinos Protocol and it is now mandatory for vessels to pass this inspection before they start fishing;


Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus Eleginoides) live predominantly around sub-Antarctic islands like South Georgia. It is a slow-growing, long-lived species. In 2004, the South Georgia toothfish fishery became the world’s first toothfish fishery to be certified as sustainable by the MSC. The fishery was recertified by the MSC without conditions in 2009 and 2014, scoring 96 out of 100 against the three MSC principles, making it one of the world’s highest-scoring fisheries assessed against MSC standards. Other toothfish fisheries in the Southern Ocean have since followed this lead.

The Government determines the amount of quota which is available each year based on scientific advice, taking into account GSGSSI’s precautionary management approach. Much science is conducted each year by fishing vessels and science research cruises to support this management approach.

The Government employs a range of management measures to protect fish stocks and minimise seabird mortality. Amongst the management measures to protect fish stocks are:

  • Strict quotas – based on scientific research and surveys.
  • Minimum fishing depth of 700 m – to protect juvenile fish.
  • Closed areas – to protect spawning fish and biodiversity on the sea floor. No fishing is permitted within 12 nautical miles of South Georgia.
  • Scientific observers on each vessel – to collect data for stock assessments and report on vessel operations.

Amongst the mitigation measures used to reduce to near zero seabird mortality in the South Georgia toothfish fishery are:

  • Restricted season – mid April to 31st August to coincide with the non-breeding season when most of the vulnerable species depart from South Georgia waters.
  • Night-time setting of hooks – to avoid diurnally active birds.
  • Minimum line weighting – to aid hook sink rate.
  • Streamer lines – to scare birds away from baited hooks during line setting.

In 2018, the Government increased the duration of licences in the toothfish fishery, following consultation with stakeholders, from 2 years to 4 years.  Among other things this seeks to:

  • allow successful applicants to plan their operations more effectively, allowing more thorough preparations and an enhanced contribution to scientific research;
  • provide scope for enhanced investment and raising of standards across the fisheries by providing greater operational security over a longer timeframe; and
  • support the long-term precautionary management of the fishery.

The Government operates an open application process for licences and competition for licences is always high.  All applications are assessed carefully against a set of published, transparent, criteria, and licences are awarded to the highest-scoring applicants, subject to and in accordance with any foreign policy advice from the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

In early 2018 the Government fixed the quota for the 2018 season at 2,170 tonnes and issued 4-year licences to six vessels. Of these six vessels, three are flagged to UK Overseas Territories. The others are flagged to Chile, Uruguay, and New Zealand.

A small mixed fishery for Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus Mawsoni) is conducted in the waters of the South Sandwich Islands. This fishery only takes place in line with scientific monitoring requirements to support the effective conservation and management of regional fish stocks. No fishing is permitted within 3 nautical miles of the South Sandwich Islands, or in depths shallower than 700m.


Mackerel icefish (Champsocephalus Gunnari) grow rapidly to a size of 55 cm on a diet that largely consists of krill. They form large aggregations in shelf waters all round South Georgia and Shag Rocks. A pelagic trawl fishery for mackerel icefish operates within South Georgia waters, mostly in the summer months. In 2010, the South Georgia mackerel icefish fishery was certified as sustainable by the MSC, and subsequently re-certified. The 2017 fisheries survey estimates the icefish biomass at South Georgia to be in the region of 90,000 tonnes. Annual catches are currently less than 1,000 tonnes.


Antarctic krill (Euphausia Superba) is a key species in the Southern Ocean ecosystem. It is estimated that there are 60 million tonnes of krill in the Southern Ocean. Krill are small (up to 60 mm long) shrimp like creatures that can be found in huge aggregations in Antarctic and South Georgia waters. Krill are important in the pelagic food-web of the Southern Ocean, linking primary production (plankton) to vertebrate predators (fish, seabirds and marine mammals).

South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands is at the northern limit of the krill distribution. Krill at South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands are not self-sustaining but dependent on the northerly movement of krill in the currents of the Southern Ocean from their spawning grounds under the ice in the Antarctic Peninsula and Weddell Sea. Krill reproduction is highly dependent on sea ice conditions and hence environmental factors.

CCAMLR currently restricts krill catches across the Southern Ocean to 620,000 tonnes – a little over 1% of the estimated total krill population.

The krill fishery at South Georgia & the South Sandwich is closed in summer during the predator breeding season, with additional pelagic no-take zones (year-round closures) extending 12 nm around South Georgia and each of the South Sandwich Islands. The Government requires 100% international scientific observer coverage in the krill fishery, ahead of the CCAMLR requirement. A major component of the krill fishery is MSC certified. No krill fishing currently takes place around the South Sandwich Islands.