Additional Participants

Graduate Student

Robert Snyder

Undergraduate Student

Michelle Martin

Other Participant

Roy Gardner

Dymtro Zhosan

Project Period

September 2010-August 2011

Level of Access

Open-Access Report

Grant Number


Submission Date



Dr. James M. Acheson and Dr. Ann Acheson will undertake research on the processes by which rules to regulate natural resources come into being and the reasons they are followed or ignored. Most renewable natural resources are in a state of decline, including fisheries, grasslands, and forests. One reason is that rules and laws to conserve natural resources often fail to work well. This team of researchers will seek to understand the underlying reasons by studying two fisheries in the Gulf of Maine: the lobster industry, where effective rules have been developed and catches are at record highs, and the groundfish industry (which includes such fish as cod and haddock) where catches are at historic low levels and management appears to be ineffective.

To study how these two management systems evolved, the project has four related components: (1) a study of the current culture and social organization of these two industries; (2) a historical study designed to understand how a conservation ethic arose in the lobster industry, while groundfishermen are just now beginning to try to conserve; (3) controlled laboratory experimental games done with Maine fishermen to explore when people will constrain their own exploitive efforts; (4) an evolutionary game theory model to integrate findings from the other parts of the project. The project will be carried out by an interdisciplinary team of anthropologists with extensive knowledge of Maine fisheries and fisheries policy, and economists with expertise in game theory.

This project seeks to answer two important questions. First, how do norms and rules come into being? Second, what are the factors leading people to conserve or overexploit resources? This research has theoretical importance for social scientists seeking to understand the origins and persistence of social rules and institutions. The research findings also will have practical implications for resource managers, legislators, and policy makers.