Recognize fish as food in policy discourse and development funding.

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The international development community is off-track from meeting targets for alleviating global malnutrition. Meanwhile, there is growing consensus across scientific disciplines that fish plays a crucial role in food and nutrition security. However, this 'fish as food' perspective has yet to translate into policy and development funding priorities. We argue that the traditional framing of fish as a natural resource emphasizes economic development and biodiversity conservation objectives, whereas situating fish within a food systems perspective can lead to innovative policies and investments that promote nutrition-sensitive and socially equitable capture fisheries and aquaculture. This paper highlights four pillars of research needs and policy directions toward this end. Ultimately, recognizing and working to enhance the role of fish in alleviating hunger and malnutrition can provide an additional long-term development incentive, beyond revenue generation and biodiversity conservation, for governments, international development organizations, and society more broadly to invest in the sustainability of capture fisheries and aquaculture.





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Nowlin, M, A Bennett, X Basurto, J Virdin, X Lin, S Betances, M Smith, S Roady, et al. (2021). Recognize fish as food in policy discourse and development funding. Ambio. 10.1007/s13280-020-01451-4 Retrieved from

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Michelle Nowlin

Clinical Professor of Law

Michelle Nowlin joined the Duke Law faculty in June 2008 as a supervising attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic and became co-director in 2019. She supervises clinic students from the Law School and the Nicholas School of the Environment and co-teaches the seminar portion of the clinic. Since joining the Clinic faculty in 2008, Nowlin has worked with students on a range of matters, including protection of endangered species and National Parks, innovative approaches to reduce marine debris, the use of drones in marine conservation, policies to promote sustainable agriculture, and measures to protect children from lead poisoning hazards. She has also filed amicus curiae briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court and North Carolina Supreme Court.  Nowlin currently serves as chair of the board of advisors for the Duke Campus Farm, as a faculty advisor for the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum, and as a member of the Bass Connections Faculty Advisory Council and the Community Advisory Board for the Superfund Research Center. She is a past chair of the American Association of Law School’s Food and Agriculture Law Section, and serves on the AALS’ Environmental Law Section council. She received the University’s Faculty Award for Outstanding Leadership in Sustainability in 2013.

Nowlin has dedicated her career to the protection of natural resources and public health through the practice of environmental law. Prior to joining Duke’s faculty, she was a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill where she led the organization’s initiative to develop and implement pollution control programs for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, developed a template for integrating water resource and water quality planning, and litigated cases pursuant to the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. For her advocacy work, she was named an Honorary Warden by the North Carolina Audubon Society in 2006, and received the Bill Holman Award for Environmental Advocacy, awarded by the Conservation Council of North Carolina, in 1997. She completed a fellowship awarded by the Ford Foundation and worked in private practice for two years in Washington, D.C., prior to joining SELC. 

Nowlin is a member of the North Carolina Bar and the D.C. Bar, and is admitted to practice in the state and federal courts of North Carolina, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. She has served on the boards of directors of several nonprofit and civic organizations, including a term as chair of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Law Section of the North Carolina Bar Association. She was named a Neighborhood Hero by Durham’s Inter-neighborhood Council in 2007, in recognition of her community work.

Nowlin earned her B.A. with Highest Honors from the University of Florida, where she was also inducted into Florida Blue Key and Phi Beta Kappa. She earned a dual J.D./M.A. from Duke Law School and the School of the Environment in 1992. Nowlin lives in Durham with her husband and children.


Xavier Basurto

Truman and Nellie Semans/Alex Brown & Sons Associate Professor

I am interested in the fundamental question of how groups (human and non-human) can find ways to self-organize, cooperate, and engage in successful collective action for the benefit of the common good. To do this I strive to understand how the institutions (formal and informal rules and norms) that govern social behavior, interplay with biophysical variables to shape social-ecological systems. What kind of institutions are better able to govern complex-adaptive systems? and how can societies (large and small) develop robust institutions that provide enough flexibility for collective learning and adaptation over the long-term?

My academic and professional training is based on a deep conviction that it is through integrating different disciplinary perspectives and methods that we will be able to find solutions to challenging dilemmas in natural resources management, conservation, and environmental policy. Trained as a marine biologist, I completed a M.S in natural resources studying small-scale fisheries in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Realizing the need to bring social science theories into my work on common-pool resources sustainability, I earned an MPA and a Ph.D. in Management (with a minor in cultural anthropology) from the University of Arizona and under the supervision of Edella Schlager. Following I spent two years working with Elinor Ostrom, 2009 co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, at the Workshop for Political Theory and Policy Analysis of Indiana University. Methodologically, I am familiar with a variety of quantitative and qualitative approaches and formally trained to conduct Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA or more recently fsQCA), that allows among other things, systematic comparisons of middle range N sample sizes and address issues of multiple-causality.


John Virdin

Assistant Professor of the Practice in the Division of Marine Science and Conservation

John Virdin is director of the Coastal and Ocean Policy Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Virdin’s areas of expertise include assisting developing country governments to reform and strengthen their institutions responsible for ocean fisheries, thereby reducing poverty and enhancing sustainability, and creating policy and institutional frameworks governing a wide range of human activities that drive change in ocean ecosystems, including activities leading to the conversion or degradation of natural coastal habitats.

Virdin worked for more than 10 years at the World Bank, most recently as acting program manager for the Global Partnership for Oceans, a coalition of more than 150 governments, companies, nongovernmental organizations, foundations, and multi-lateral agencies. He advised the Bank on oceans and fisheries governance and helped it increase its lending for sustainable oceans to more than $1 billion. His work led to development of programs that provided more than $125 million in funding for improved fisheries management in six West African nations and some $40 million for fisheries and ocean conservation in a number of Pacific Island nations.

Prior to his tenure at the World Bank, Virdin worked with the World Resources Institute, the Munson Foundation, the World Conservation Network, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Virdin holds a master’s degree in environmental studies from Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Wake Forest University.  He will receive his doctorate in marine policy from the University of Delaware in 2015.


Martin D. Smith

George M. Woodwell Distinguished Professor of Environmental Economics

Smith studies the economics of the oceans, including fisheries, marine ecosystems, seafood markets, and coastal climate adaptation. He has written on a range of policy-relevant topics, including economics of marine reserves, seasonal closures in fisheries, ecosystem-based management, catch shares, nutrient pollution, aquaculture, genetically modified foods, the global seafood trade, organic agriculture, coastal property markets, and coastal responses to climate change. He is best known for identifying unintended consequences of marine and coastal policies that ignore human behavioral feedbacks. Smith’s methodological interests span micro-econometrics, optimal control theory, time series analysis, and numerical modeling of coupled human-natural systems. Smith’s published work appears in The American Economic Review, Nature, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, the Review of Economics and Statistics, and a number of other scholarly journals that span environmental economics, fisheries science, marine policy, ecology, and the geo-sciences. Smith has received national and international awards, including the Quality of Research Discovery from the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, Outstanding Article in Marine Resource Economics, and an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellowship. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, and the Research Council of Norway. Smith has served as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Marine Resource Economics, Co-Editor of the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, and Co-Editor of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management. He served as a member of the Scientific and Statistical Committee of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and currently serves on the Ocean Studies Board of the National Academies.

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