Sharing aquatic genetic resources across jurisdictions: playing ‘chicken’ in the sea

  • Fran Humphries
Original Paper


International regimes regulating access and benefit sharing were originally designed to promote conservation and fairness objectives concerning the use of the world’s biological resources for their genetic material value. These regimes determine from whom permission is required to take the resources and who obtains the benefits of their use. They have evolved separate frameworks in three distinct jurisdictional areas—within national jurisdiction, beyond national jurisdiction and in the Antarctic Treaty Area. This article argues that if these regimes continue to evolve separately, there is a strong temptation for countries to play ‘chicken’ with biological resource governance through forum shopping or opting out of agreements that do not suit their political ends. Using game theory and a transgenic tilapia fish example incorporating genetic material from the three jurisdictional areas, it illustrates the legal and ethical dilemmas that can arise from the territorial (jurisdictional) approach to access and benefit sharing—to the detriment of fairness and conservation in tilapia’s countries of origin. Tilapias are known as the ‘chicken of the sea’ because they dominate global farmed production and developing countries depend on them as their primary source of protein, livelihoods and trade. This means there will be serious consequences if the regimes do not achieve their fairness and conservation objectives for sharing their genetic material. This article concludes that a purpose-driven cooperative governance approach can sidestep the game of chicken and promote fairer and more conservation focused outcomes than the current jurisdictional approach for the developing country providers of migratory aquatic resources.


Access and benefit sharing Aquatic genetic resources Tilapia aquaculture Technology transfer Convention on biological diversity Law of the sea 



I thank Professor Charles Lawson for his comments on this article. I also thank Griffith University for funding the writing of this article.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

After researching and drafting this article, the WorldFish Center engaged the author to carry out a research consultancy on aquaculture. WorldFish is an aid and development organization based in Malaysia and was central to the dissemination of tilapia GIFT genetic resources mentioned in the article. The work in this article was not a result of (not funded by) the WorldFish consultancy.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Griffith Law SchoolGriffith UniversityNathanAustralia

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