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Lesson Ideas

Overfishing – a Tragedy of the Commons Game for Students

An educational game about overfishing and fisheries management – with candy.

Fisheries management classroom game

  • Get a tub of wrapped chocolates or an everyday bag of wrapped sweets, which will be used as the ‘fish’ in this activity. Select four types of sweets to represent four commonly caught fish species of differing commercial value – eg tuna (highest value), mackerel (high value), herring (medium value), and anchovy (low value) (these can be adapted depending on your region). Place the four types of sweets on a large table, but deliberately place fewer high-value sweets than the lower value ones, to reflect the natural differences in the abundance of these species in the environment.
  • Divide the class into four different teams, representing different fishing boats. Provide everyone with a ‘fishing net’ each, which could be a stick/ruler attached to a paper box. Get students to make a circle around the table with sweets, which represents the ‘open access fishery’ where everyone can catch as much fish as they want, but will consequently show the negative effects on fish stocks if fishers do not cooperate.
  • During the game, you should add sweets back into the pile to allow fish to ‘regenerate’ after a certain amount of time and stagger this for each species – anchovy (every 2 seconds), herring (every 4 seconds), mackerel (every 8 seconds) and tuna (every 12 seconds). This will reflect the natural growth of the fish stock.
  • There are three rounds to this game, and the first round should have no rules where each fishing team can fish for as many sweets as they want – this should quickly show the students that some kind of management is needed when the sweets quickly disappear. After each round, allow students to have an open discussion about their tactics and what rules they should make to allow them to fish for the higher value fish.
  • With each round, the aim of the activity is for the students to realize how a collapse of a fishery can occur, and think about what measures will allow them to continue to fish in a sustainable way.

Thanks to marine biologist Jemima Dimbleby for adapting this lesson.

For a slightly different version of the game, check out AP Science teacher Kristi Schertz’ blog here.

Reading Extension

Read this article on the impact of fishing and answer the questions!

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