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Slippery Fish: Enforcing Regulation when Agents Learn and Adapt


  • Andres Gonzalez-Lira
  • Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak


Attempts to curb undesired behavior through regulation gets complicated when agents can adapt to circumvent enforcement. We test a model of enforcement with learning and adaptation, by auditing vendors selling illegal fish in Chile in a randomized controlled trial, and tracking them daily using mystery shoppers. Conducting audits on a predictable schedule and (counter-intuitively) at high frequency is less effective, as agents learn to take advantage of loopholes. A consumer information campaign proves to be almost as cost-effective and curbing illegal sales, and obviates the need for complex monitoring and policing. The Chilean government subsequently chooses to scale up this campaign.

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  • Andres Gonzalez-Lira & Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, 2021. "Slippery Fish: Enforcing Regulation when Agents Learn and Adapt," NBER Working Papers 28610, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:28610
    Note: DEV EEE LE POL

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    Cited by:

    1. Kastoryano, Stephen & Vollaard, Ben, 2022. "Nautical Patrol and Illegal Fishing Practices," Discussion Paper 2022-016, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • L51 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - Economics of Regulation
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development

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