TURF Wars:

Group Dynamics in Resource Management

October 9, 2019

Project Summary

Overfishing has been a concern for many decades. One potential solution to this concern has been the use of Territorial Use Rights for Fisheries (TURF), which separate fisheries into small, self-managed areas. Most academic research on the topic examines the behavior and effects of individual TURFs, but less has been done on the effects that neighboring TURFs have on each other.

This study examines the effect of separating fisheries into TURFs. Through hands-on experiments, we show how these fishing territorial use rights interact on poaching, fishery incomes, and the fishery’s sustainability. Specifically, it focuses on the differences between self-managed fisheries and fisheries managed by third-parties. The study compares management systems when fisheries are consolidated, meaning that the entire fishery is managed by six owners and also when fisheries are divided, meaning that the six owners are split into three separate sub-fisheries.

Self-managed fisheries can improve some outcomes

  • Incomes are 23% higher on average in self-managed fisheries than in outside-managed fisheries.
  • Self-managing groups choose higher levels of surveillance, which decreases overfishing and illegal activity.

Self-managed fisheries can worsen some outcomes when divided

  • Groups that are too small can have worse outcomes than larger fisheries.
  • Incomes are 37% lower on average in divided fisheries than in united fisheries because of poaching between the fisheries.
  • Divided fisheries select higher legal harvest limits, resulting in overfishing.

This suggests that group dynamics and biases affect the efficiency and sustainability of TURFs. Importantly, the negative externalities of dividing fisheries can reduce and even eliminate the benefits of self-management in two ways. First, fishery management by many small groups may be less effective than fewer larger groups because group divisions encourage inter-group conflict. Second, fishery management in the experiment and in policy may not have been set at the appropriate scale for effective cooperation between the TURFs.

Fisheries are difficult resources to manage, but TURFs represent one policy option to address overfishing. The size of the divided fisheries has significant effects on the programs that can outweigh the benefits of self-management. In light of this, policymakers should consider these dynamics when designing and implementing fishery management reforms.

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