South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) is a UK Overseas Territory, situated 800 miles SE of the Falkland Islands. The main island of South Georgia is approximately 170 km long and between 2 and 40 km wide and occupies an area of 3,755 km2, more than half of which is permanently ice covered. Mt Paget rises to 2,934 m and is the highest point in all UK mainland and territories outside of Antarctica. The South Sandwich Islands are a chain of eleven small volcanic islands stretching from 56-60oS, 350-500 miles SE of South Georgia. The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Maritime Zone (200 nm from baselines) occupies in excess of 1,000,000 km2 of the Southern Ocean.
South Georgia was first sighted by London merchant Antoine de la Roche in 1675 and was claimed for Great Britain by James Cook in 1775, with government arrangements established by Letter Patent in 1843. Cook also discovered the South Sandwich Islands (1775) and the islands were subsequently annexed by Great Britain through the 1908 Letters Patent.
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;