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Hydropower vs. fisheries conservation: a test of institutional design principles for common-pool resource management in the lower Mekong basin social-ecological system

Sergio Villamayor-Tomas, Division of Resource Economics, Humboldt University
Mikayel Avagyan, Division of Resource Economics, Humboldt University
Marit Firlus, Division of Resource Economics, Humboldt University
Georg Helbing, Division of Resource Economics, Humboldt University
Margarita Kabakova, Division of Resource Economics, Humboldt University


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New methods have emerged for testing common-pool resource theory in large-scale environmental governance contexts. We aim to contribute to that scholarship by assessing the relevance of Elinor Ostrom’s design principles in the lower Mekong basin (LMB). The recent dam-building trend in the LMB has revealed a trade-off between hydropower development and the conservation of migratory fish species. The need to internalize or avoid the negative externalities of hydropower dam construction poses a new challenge to the LMB governance system and its main management body, the Mekong River Commission. Our objective was to explain the emergence of the trade-off and the capacity of the governance system to address it. Elinor Ostrom’s design principles and other variables provided by the Socio-ecological Systems Meta-analysis Database were first coded with regard to secondary data and then tested against the capacity for cooperation of the LMB governance system. The lack of sanctioning despite a strong monitoring system, and the existence of fuzzy governance boundaries in the context of a powerful outsider like China, were particularly relevant to understanding the current cooperation stalemate in the basin. Other variables such as scientific knowledge, triggering events, markets, resource spatial heterogeneity, and heterogeneity of interests were also relevant.

Key words

common pool resource theory; fisheries; hydropower; institutional design principles; lower Mekong basin; SESMAD; social-ecological systems

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087