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Investing in the commons: transient welfare creates incentives despite open access

Jacob P Ziegler, Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University
Sunny L Jardine, School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington
Stuart E Jones, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame
Brett T van Poorten, Simon Fraser University
Marco A Janssen, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University; School of Complex Adaptive Systems, Arizona State University
Christopher T Solomon, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies


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Local users may invest in managing common pool resources, thereby promoting social and ecological resilience. Institutional or economic limits on access are regarded as essential preconditions for incentivizing local investments, but we show that investment incentives can exist even under open access. We modeled a recreational harvest fishery in which local or centralized managers invest in fish stocking to maximize social welfare. Although classic open access dissipation of rents occurs at equilibrium, the sluggish response of fishing effort to changing conditions allows welfare to accrue in transition to equilibrium. This transient welfare creates persistent incentives to invest. Empirical observations showed that stocking by local collective action groups occurred at rates similar to model-predicted optima, while centralized stocking occurred at rates greater than predicted optima. Our results emphasize the potential benefits of local involvement in managing the commons, even under conditions that were previously thought to preclude effective collective action.

Key words

angler; collective action; common pool resource; fish stocking; fishery; lake association; open access; polycentric governance; social-ecological system

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087