The influence of nudges on compliance behaviour in recreational fisheries: a laboratory experiment

Ms Mary Mackay1

1University Of Tasmania, Battery Point, Australia


Non-compliance is a tenacious problem in recreational fisheries management; undermining management efforts and creating conflict between user groups. In fisheries management, deterrence-based approaches have traditionally been used to tackle non-compliance. However, enforcement is often limited in recreational fisheries and an alternative to the traditional approach is needed to improve compliance. In this paper we explore behavioural economics and apply nudge theory as the basis of alternative management approaches to boost compliance. Nudge theory argues that through positive reinforcement or indirect suggestions non-forced compliance can be achieved. We test the influence of a nudge based on social norms through an economic laboratory experiment in a recreational fisheries context. Our results show that the presence of a nudge can increase compliance behaviour with a bag limit regulation by 10%. We find that a nudge was more effective when deterrence is low, but its effects become weaker when deterrence is already high. We find that there is heterogeneity across individuals whether they respond to nudge and that risk preferences and gender are significantly correlated with compliance behaviour. This study suggests that nudges are applicable to recreational fisheries since the scale of the compliance decision is on the individual level, in which behavioural incentives, such as social norms, personal morals and values, play a large role. We anticipate that nudges may have the potential to complement and bolster traditional deterrence methods of boosting compliance and this approach could prove successful as a cost effective compliance tool in the marine environment.


Mary is currently a PhD candidate at the Centre for Marine Socioecology at the University of Tasmania. Previous to this she completed her BSc. in Environmental Biology and Geography at the University of St Andrews and her MSci in Marine Systems and Policies at the University of Edinburgh and conducted her thesis research in Sri Lanka focussing on conflicts in small scale fisheries. Currently her work aims to gain a greater understanding of current regulatory compliance behaviour of marine resource users and the incentivising of compliance behaviour through indirect suggestion using nudges, rather than additional punitive economic incentives.