Sharing the benefits of sustainable fisheries: from global to local legal approaches to marine ecosystem services for poverty alleviation

How can science be translated into law in ways that encourage more sustainable fishing that benefit the poor?

This inter-disciplinary project - involving science, policy and legal researchers - explored 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 (which are some of the poorest in the world) and who rely on these resources for food security and income generation. 

Through policy related outputs, this project aimed to benefit international, national and local policy-makers by translating standards dispersed through several instruments into clear workable guidance to ensure sustainable marine management is considered in a consistent "global to local" way and is mindful of coastal community needs.

This project’s innovative approach related to the use of legal analysis that builds on an inter-disciplinary science-policy study to identify how the ecosystem services framework can help bridge multi-scalar biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation in its multiple dimensions. In this connection, the systemic and evolutionary interpretation of international biodiversity law, law of the sea and human rights law confers this project with a novel perspective, since these disciplines are not often analysed in a systemic fashion. 

Key findings of the project comprised:

  1. There is a need to connect research on ecosystem services for poverty alleviation with international policy and law-making processes, as well as relevant implementation efforts, on the ecosystem approach to fisheries, to realize its equity dimension.
  2. Sustainable fisheries can directly contribute to the maintenance or restoration of a wide range of ecosystem services beyond provisioning services. However, many barriers to sustainable fisheries exist, including data deficiencies, particularly with regard to catch data, overcapacity, ecosystem effects of fishing like bycatch and habitat destruction, and the frequent disconnect between social and ecological goals and power imbalances often favoring industrial fisheries in detriment of small scale/artisanal/subsistence fisheries.
  3. Several of the multiple dimensions of poverty (as reflected in the SDG 1) rest also on international human rights law (notably the right to food (linked with SDG 2 and the FAO Small Scale Fisheries Guidelines). In pursuing this approach, the role of impact assessments (e.g. human rights impact assessments, environmental impact assessments, cultural impact assessments, strategic environmental assessments, etc) has been explored as a potential integrative tool for ecosystem services for poverty alleviation in the context of an ecosystem approach.
  4. To ensure long-term sustainability of the resources and of the livelihoods dependent on these resources, we argue that large-scale fisheries (object of fishing agreements or not) should be subject to environmental impact assessments, and only authorized to proceed if significant adverse impacts are not likely to occur on the marine ecosystems and associated services, as well as small-scale fishing communities. This could contribute towards the achievement of relevant SDGs, including SDGs 1, 2, 4, 13, 14 and 17), and potentially SDGs 3 (on well-being), 10 (reduced inequalities), 12 (responsible production), and 16 (peace, justice and reduced inequalities).

Further information:

Principal Investigator
Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Country: United Kingdom
Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Country: United Kingdom