Natural resources are vulnerable to over-exploitation in the absence of effective management. However, norms, enforced by social ostracism, can promote cooperation and increase stock biomass in common-pool resource systems. Unfortunately, the long-term sustainable use of a resource is not assured even if cooperation, maintained by ostracism and aimed at optimizing resource use, exists. Here, using the example of fisheries, we show that for a cooperative to be maintained by ostracism over time, it often must act inefficiently, choosing a ‘second-best’ strategy where the resource is over-harvested to some degree. Those cooperatives that aim for maximum sustainable profit, the “first-best” harvest strategy, are more vulnerable to invasion by independent harvesters, leading to larger declines in the fish population. In contrast, second-best strategies emphasize the resistance to invasion by independent harvesters over maximizing yield or profit. Ultimately, this leads to greater long-run payoffs to the resource users as well as higher resource stock levels. This highlights the value of pragmatism in the design of cooperative institutions for managing natural resources.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecological Modeling
- Collective action
- Coupled natural-human systems
- Evolutionary game theory
- Human behavior
- Social-ecological systems