High-seas fish wars generate marine reserves

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Apr 5;113(14):3767-72. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1518509113. Epub 2016 Mar 14.


The effective management of marine fisheries is an ongoing challenge at the intersection of biology, economics, and policy. One way in which fish stocks-and their habitats-can be protected is through the establishment of marine reserves, areas that are closed to fishing. Although the potential economic benefits of such reserves have been shown for single-owner fisheries, their implementation quickly becomes complicated when more than one noncooperating harvester is involved in fishery management, which is the case on the high seas. How do multiple self-interested actors distribute their fishing effort to maximize their individual economic gains in the presence of others? Here, we use a game theoretic model to compare the effort distributions of multiple noncooperating harvesters with the effort distributions in the benchmark sole owner and open access cases. In addition to comparing aggregate rent, stock size, and fishing effort, we focus on the occurrence, size, and location of marine reserves. We show that marine reserves are a component of many noncooperative Cournot-Nash equilibria. Furthermore, as the number of harvesters increases, (i) both total unfished area and the size of binding reserves (those that actually constrain behavior) may increase, although the latter eventually asymptotically decreases; (ii) total rents and stock size both decline; and (iii) aggregate effort used (i.e., employment) can either increase or decrease, perhaps nonmonotonically.

Keywords: fisheries management; game theory; marine protected areas; marine reserves; spatial bioeconomic model.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Ecosystem
  • Fisheries / economics*
  • Fisheries / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Fishes
  • Game Theory