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

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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 here 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.
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  • Vigo, Galicia, Spain
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