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Using Private Rights to Manage Natural Resources: Is Stewardship Linked to Ownership?

Patrick W Gilmour, Department of Zoology, The University of Melbourne
Robert W Day, Department of Zoology, The University of Melbourne
Peter D Dwyer, Department of Resource Management and Geography, The University of Melbourne

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-04770-170301

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Abstract

There is increasing interest in privatizing natural resource systems to promote sustainability and conservation goals. Though economic theory suggests owners of private property rights have an incentive to act as resource stewards, few studies have tested this empirically. This paper asks whether private rights-owners were more conservative with respect to their management opinions than nonrights-owners in five Australian abalone (Haliotis spp.) fisheries. Multiple regression analyses were used to link opinions to demographic, economic, and attitudinal variables. In contrast to standard economic assumptions, nonrights-owners suggested more conservative catch limits than did rights-owners, confirming qualitative observations of behavior in management workshops. Differing views about the condition of the resource and differing levels of experience contributed to these results. The first of its kind, this study directly demonstrates that private rights do not necessarily promote the greatest level of stewardship. This has substantial implications for how natural resources are governed globally, but also warns against applying simplistic behavioral assumptions to complex social-ecological systems.

Key words

Australia, comanagement, fisheries, individual transferable quota, property rights, stewardship, sustainable behavior
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087