Governing the Global Fisheries Commons

20 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2023

See all articles by Pablo Paniagua

Pablo Paniagua

King’s College London

Veeshan Rayamajhee

North Dakota State University

Date Written: October 2023


Despite significant advances in our understanding of the biophysical and institutional causes of overfishing, we have made little progress in addressing the depletion of our global fisheries stock. Investigations of potential solutions tend to be either too broad (mischaracterizing global fisheries as a singular commons problem to be addressed at the supranational level) or too narrow (focusing on improving management of small fisheries at the micro level). This article attempts to bridge the gap between our scientific understanding of our collective dilemmas and pragmatic solutions. Building on insights from Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom, we frame the depletion of global fisheries as a nested set of diverse and interconnected collective action problems organized at different horizontal and vertical levels, where decisions and actions of one jurisdictional unit reinforce and amplify problems (and solutions) for other units. We examine features of the global fisheries system such as nonstationarity, nestedness, and prohibitive transaction costs, and we explore potential solutions. We argue that the success of our conservation goals depends on our ability to craft institutional rules at the lower levels that are adaptive to local conditions, address incentive misalignment issues, and allow for the transfer of positive externalities to adjacent and higher levels.

Keywords: Global commons, fisheries, environmental economics, Elinor Ostrom, nested externalities

JEL Classification: D02, Q50, Q22, Q25, Q28

Suggested Citation

Paniagua, Pablo and Rayamajhee, Veeshan, Governing the Global Fisheries Commons (October 2023). Mercatus Working Paper Series, Available at SSRN: or

Pablo Paniagua (Contact Author)

King’s College London ( email )

London, England WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

Veeshan Rayamajhee

North Dakota State University ( email )

Fargo, ND 58105
United States

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