Environmental and Resource Economics

, Volume 61, Issue 1, pp 91–114 | Cite as

Time Discounting and the Overexploitation of Coral Reefs

  • Louise S. L. TehEmail author
  • Lydia C. L. Teh
  • U. Rashid Sumaila
  • William Cheung


The incentive to overexploit a fishery resource is thought to exist if the resource owner’s discount rate is sufficiently higher than the biological productivity of the targeted fish stock. Coral reef fisheries are extensively overexploited worldwide, but the discount rates of reef fishers are largely unknown, and there is little information about how discount rates relate to the exploitation status of fisheries. We address these two research gaps for 48 small-scale reef fisheries around the world. We use a life history based method to derive fishery level intrinsic growth rates, and then apply fisheries economics theory to investigate the compatibility of 2 different discount rates (official and private) with the exploitation status of reef fisheries. We find that official discount rates that are normally used for policy making appear to be too low to fully reflect the short term outlook of reef fishers. Instead, our inferred annual average private discount rate of 107 % for fishers may better reflect the general overexploited state of reef fisheries. Our results indicate that in order to improve the chances of success, fisheries policies, which affect local fishers, may need to be evaluated using private discount rates rather than the currently used official discount rates.


Conservation Coral reef fisheries Discount rates  Fisheries sustainability Time discounting 



The following individuals generously provided data and/or their expert opinion about reef fish catch composition: S. Anandappa, J. Cuetos-Bueno, T. E. Davies, A. Edwards, J. Gumbs and the Anguilla Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources, A. Johnson, C. Poonian, and the Turks & Caicos School of Field Studies. LSLT acknowledges a doctoral scholarship from the Canada Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). URS acknowledges the Pew Charitable Trust for funding the Sea Around Us Project, and the Too Big to Ignore project supported by SSHRC. LSLT, LCLT and URS thank the Kingfisher Foundation for funding support.

Supplementary material

10640_2013_9674_MOESM1_ESM.doc (476 kb)
Supplementary caption 1 with my own citation ESM 1 (DOC 476 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Louise S. L. Teh
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lydia C. L. Teh
    • 1
  • U. Rashid Sumaila
    • 1
  • William Cheung
    • 1
  1. 1.Fisheries CentreUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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