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Prioritizing Compliance over Enforcement (RBC part II)

January 6, 2015
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A hypothetical model of the relationship between enforcement and fishery offenses.

In my first post on risk-based compliance (RBC) programs for fisheries, I presented four big ideas on why such programs should be incorporated into standard fisheries management practice. In this post, I’ll touch on the first of these.

Specifically, it seems that comprehensive compliance programs that incorporate both voluntary compliance and deterrence motivations should be the standard in fisheries management, rather than one-sided enforcement programs. Put into fewer words, I suggest that we should begin to prioritize compliance over enforcement.

What does this mean? Well, it means we recognize that people don’t just follow the rules because they are afraid of getting caught by enforcement officers. As Australia puts it in their national compliance program for Commonwealth fisheries, compliance is a function of both voluntary and coerced behaviors:

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This formula helps us think about how best to achieve an optimal level of compliance given available resources.

Let’s begin with the deterrence function, which I’ve found has been nicely graphed as a hypothetical by the government of Western Australia (see graphic at top of page).

There you see two lines. The red line shows the relationship between enforcement effort and the true number of fishery offenses, while the black line shows the relationship between enforcement effort and the observed number of offenses. It suggests that the lines can converge, and that offenses can greatly decrease, but only at a relatively high cost. In the real world, we might think that this high cost would be borne in the implementation of 100% observer coverage, or 100% deployment of electronic monitoring systems (see here).

If we thought that deterrence alone led fishers to comply or not comply with fishing regulations, then managing compliance would depend merely on establishing a particular level of compliance as a goal and investing in enforcement activities that either raise the probability of detection, the cost of detection, or both. That means money towards such things as:

  • Overtly patrolling areas to deter illegal activity
  • Covert patrolling, monitoring and carrying out surveillance using deception and mimicking behavior to avoid detection
  • Saturation and pulse operations designed to concentrate on specific compliance issues
  • Patrol vessels to carry out at-sea inspections of licenses, catch and fishing gear
  • Aerial patrols to detect activity in large or remote fishing areas
  • In-port inspections of vessels, catch and equipment
  • Land inspections of catch and fish processing
  • Use of mobile patrols to increase the element of surprise and to obviate the advantage offenders may have through knowledge of the movement patterns of local officers
  • A free-call telephone hotline for public reporting of illegal activity
  • Clear regulations, restrictions, and fines that limit catches, sizes, fish types, fishing gear, equipment, sales, fishers, seasons, times and areas
  • Penalties for illegal activity that are commensurate with the value of the illegal fish involved, and the type of illegal activity to create an effective deterrent
  • Seizure and confiscation of fish and fishing equipment
  • License suspension or cancellation for offenses involving for high value species
  • Educational initiatives that make fishers more aware of the fishing rules, penalties, and past prosecutions

Now, all of these enforcement activities are fine and dandy. But the trouble is, in many places in the world, fisheries management assumes that deterrence is the only “lever” they have in affecting a given compliance rate. Yet as modern criminology has found, in many cases, people follow the law not because of the risks of getting busted, but because they think it’s the right thing to do.

This normative explanation for obeying the law, perhaps most famously evidenced by the work of Tom Tyler of Yale University, has some very important implications for how we might affect an “optimal” level of fisheries compliance.

Rather than think of compliance simply as a result of enforcement, we can also think of it as a function of both enforcement, and all those activities that led to “voluntary compliance”, or what the compliance that results from people believing it is the right thing to do.

Looking again at the hypothetical graph above, we might consider how it would change depending on different levels of voluntary compliance. In the simplest transformation, we might expect the red and black lines to shift down as voluntary compliance increases.

In other words, obtaining optimal compliance would become easier and cheaper the more people comply voluntarily.

This is exactly the approach that the Aussies take in their Commonwealth fisheries. Behold the graphical depiction of the Australian compliance model.

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The model is built upon the idea that most fishers will be willing to do the right thing (hence the wide base), while a much smaller number will have decided not to comply. Thus, for each level of compliance, activities will be used to create a greater deterrent or voluntary compliance motive. In effect, the model creates “pressure” for fishers to move down the pyramid.

So what sort of activities might lead to more voluntary compliance? Unfortunately, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) isn’t very clear on this. The activities implied of AFMA’s compliance documents relate to:

  • Education, such as by informing fishers as to the nature and content of the rules with presentations, educational materials, and timely communications
  • Transparency, such as by ommunicating with fishers regularly on the agencies actions via newsletters and other media
  • Participation, ensuring that fishers have some opportunity to provide input to the management process

Information from the 2012-2013 audit of AFMA’s compliance activities also suggests that it is important to give Recognition for good and bad behaviors:

The audit team accompanied AFMA fisheries officers on three inspection visits throughout June and July 2012… Stakeholders also highlighted that AFMA materials regularly focused on compliance breaches resulting in enforcement actions, but positive actions taken by the fishing industry were reported less often. Throughout 2012 AFMA has increased the number of media releases and articles in the AFMA Update that highlight positive industry actions (for example, a high compliance rate with Seabird Management Plans), as well as continuing to outline AFMA actions to detect and respond to non-compliance. [bold added]

Another key set of activities appear to relate to management’s Responsiveness to fisher dissatisfaction with management performance:

In August–September 2011, AFMA conducted a survey to gain a better understanding of its stakeholder engagement, including opportunities for communicating more effectively with external stakeholders… Stakeholders considered that AFMA was effectively ensuring that fishing activities were being undertaken in accordance with fisheries regulations. However, stakeholders indicated that AFMA could benefit from increased resources and greater collaboration with state‐based regulators and regulators in other countries. In relation to non‐compliance penalties, there were varied responses but, overall, respondents considered that current penalties were not effective in deterring illegal domestic and foreign fishing activities.

I think these categories activities are a good start, but Australia (and the rest of the world) could certainly benefit from a more extensive list of activities that might increase voluntary compliance.

I’d suggest the reason why we have this gap in practical knowledge is because there appears to be a meaningful theoretical gap. That is, where enforcement is the cause, and deterrence is the effect, it seems that there is no parallel theoretical cause (or causes) of voluntary compliance.

AFMA does happen to mention a few factors that contribute to voluntary compliance – knowledge of fishery rules, belief the rules are sound, and the belief that compliance yield community benefits – but these are no further explained. Perhaps a better place to start would be the work of Tom Tyler and his normative theory of compliance. According to his now famous 1990 study, we might posit the causal factors of voluntary compliance are:

  • Personal morality – the degree to which a person believes it is wrong for them to violate fishing rules
  • Group morality – the degree to which a person will be embarrassed or shamed if they are caught breaking the rules by other fishers
  • Legitimacy – the degree to which a fisher believes the rules and enforcement officers should be obeyed
  • Satisfaction with the authorities – the degree to which fishers are pleased with the performance of their fisheries managers and enforcement officers

Of course, Tyler found that only the first three variables were significantly correlated with compliance, but existing research suggests that satisfaction with authorities might still be an important driver of noncompliance in fisheries (e.g., Hauck, 2008 & Sundstrom, 2012).

How might these causal factors then be operationalized into fishery management activities? Given the myriad possibilities, I’d suggest the best approach would be to more formally survey fishers with regards to how much each causal factor might influence their behavior and then devise ad hoc responses (which as you’ll see in future posts is the approach with AFMA’s enforcement activities).

For instance, personal morality might be measured with a question asking fishers their level of agreement on a 5-point Likert-type scale with the following statement: fishers that break the rules are bad people. Respondents can also be asked whether each of the major types of noncompliance in the fishery are “very wrong,” “somewhat wrong,” “not very wrong,” or “not wrong at all.”

For group morality, respondents can be asked whether if they would be “very embarrassed”, “embarrassed”, “not very embarrassed”, or “very embarrassed” if they were caught participating in each of the major types of rule violations by other fishers or their activities were known to their closest friends and families.

Legitimacy might be measured by evaluating respondents’ agreement with the following statements: people should obey the law even if it goes against what they think is right; I always try to follow the law even if I think it is wrong; disobeying the law is seldom justified; a person who refuses to obey the law is a problem to society; and, obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn.

Finally, satisfaction with management might be measured by asking respondents’ agreement with the following statements: current rules and regulations of the fishery are sufficient to secure the future of the fishery; the government consults with fishers, or their leaders, when making management decisions; enforcement officers treat fishers fairly; and enforcement officers apply the law evenly across all fishers.

With the results in hand, you see how compliance officers might begin to develop targeted interventions to increase overall voluntary compliance.


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