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Leadership, social capital and incentives promote successful fisheries


One billion people depend on seafood as their primary source of protein and 25% of the world’s total animal protein comes from fisheries1. Yet a third of fish stocks worldwide are overexploited or depleted1,2. Using individual case studies, many have argued that community-based co-management3 should prevent the tragedy of the commons4 because cooperative management by fishers, managers and scientists often results in sustainable fisheries3,5,6. However, general and multidisciplinary evaluations of co-management regimes and the conditions for social, economic and ecological success within such regimes are lacking. Here we examine 130 co-managed fisheries in a wide range of countries with different degrees of development, ecosystems, fishing sectors and type of resources. We identified strong leadership as the most important attribute contributing to success, followed by individual or community quotas, social cohesion and protected areas. Less important conditions included enforcement mechanisms, long-term management policies and life history of the resources. Fisheries were most successful when at least eight co-management attributes were present, showing a strong positive relationship between the number of these attributes and success, owing to redundancy in management regulations. Our results demonstrate the critical importance of prominent community leaders and robust social capital7, combined with clear incentives through catch shares and conservation benefits derived from protected areas, for successfully managing aquatic resources and securing the livelihoods of communities depending on them. Our study offers hope that co-management, the only realistic solution for the majority of the world’s fisheries, can solve many of the problems facing global fisheries.

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Figure 1: Location and success score for all study cases of fisheries co-management.
Figure 2: Fisheries co-management performance.
Figure 3: Key co-management attributes for fisheries success.

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N.L.G. was partially funded by the National Science Foundation (award 0308440) and a Fulbright–OAS Initiative in Ecology fellowship. O.D. acknowledges support by the Pew Charitable Trusts. We thank E. Ostrom, T. A. Branch, and X. Basurto for comments on the manuscript and A. E. Punt, W. N. Venables, R. Perera and S. Sethi for discussions on the methodological and statistical approach.

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N.L.G. designed the study, compiled and analysed the data and performed the statistical analyses; O.D. compiled and analysed the data. All authors discussed the results and jointly wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Nicolás L. Gutiérrez.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Gutiérrez, N., Hilborn, R. & Defeo, O. Leadership, social capital and incentives promote successful fisheries. Nature 470, 386–389 (2011).

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