How can science be translated into law in ways that encourage more sustainable fishing that benefits the poor? This inter-disciplinary project explores whether and how the innovative legal tool “benefit-sharing” can be integrated with the concept of marine ecosystem services to reduce the systemic poverty of coastal societies who depend upon marine resources for both food security and income generation. Benefit-sharing and ecosystem services are rapidly maturing concepts aspiring to reduce overexploitation of the world’s diminishing natural capital. Each, however, has evolved in relative disciplinary isolation, missing potential synergies when considered together.

Fisheries remain a highly contested ecosystem service arena, challenged by complex and fragmented arrays of legal instruments that affect access to and management of marine resources by developing countries and by small-scale fishing communities. The ability of marine ecosystems to provide abundant fish and fish products has been compromised by unsustainable fishing practices and associated biodiversity loss. Developing countries, especially least developing countries (LDCs) and small island developing States (SIDS), and their coastal inhabitants are the most vulnerable to these marine ecosystem services losses, as they are deeply reliant on fisheries for income and food, and are some of the poorest societies in the world.

The hypothesis is that benefit-sharing when framed as part of ecosystem service sustainability can address poverty issues among and within States, in the context of sustainable fisheries management. A combination of science, policy and legal research is needed to understand whether, how and to what extent benefit-sharing can effectively support both developing countries and small-scale fishing communities within these countries to achieve sustainable fisheries. Ultimately, this project aims to provide a better understanding of the role of law in equitably regulating sustainable fisheries as a provisioning ecosystem service, thereby contributing to a fairer regime among States, and to poverty alleviation within States.

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