In open-access fisheries, theory predicts over-exploitation to result. Finding mechanisms that promote sustainable use of open-access resources, including fisheries is of great importance. Fish stocks are natural resources with local biomass varying in space and time due seasonal migration, population dynamics, as well as other factors that cannot be easily modeled or predicted by harvesters. This creates the potential for risk mitigation strategies in fisheries to be beneficial. We seek to understand the circumstances under which revenue sharing can act as effective insurance against variability in harvest of a biotic resource, and explore the potential co-benefits of revenue sharing agreements as tools for improved fisheries management, even in the absence of formal governance. We use evolutionary game theory to model the emergence of revenue sharing agreements among harvesters in coupled human-natural system.
We find that when fishers are sufficiently risk-averse and the resource they are harvesting is highly variable, revenue sharing can emerge in an unmanaged fishery. These agreements can lead to modest gains in the overall management of the resource because being a member of a revenue sharing agreement decreases each harvester’s individual incentive to over-exploit the resource. Although, the benefits of revenue sharing alone are limited, they could act as seeds for broader, more formalized cooperation and institution building. This work helps to address the question of understanding how bottom-up management can emerge in natural resource systems that are prone to over-exploitation.