Alaska Sea Grant

Investigation 2 - Fishing for the Future

Class Time Required 2-3 class periods
Materials Needed
  • Pictures and student handouts
  • 2 bags of dry beans
  • Cups, bowls, spoons, straws
  • Stopwatch
  • Glue and scissors
Teacher Preparation

30 minutes to read instructions and assemble materials.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be able to follow directions and work cooperatively in small groups.



Science GLEs Addressed

3rd grade: SE2.1, SE3.1

4th gade: SE2.1, SE3.1

5th grade: SE2.1, SE3.1

Other GLEs Addressed

Reading, Writing, Math

Investigation 2Overview: In this activity, students discuss how methods of fishing have changed, then play a game to explore the idea of sustainable fishing practice. They simulate fishery activity using increasingly sophisticated technology, in different ocean areas. As students progress through the fishing seasons, they will likely overfish their part of the ocean and will have to migrate to other places in the ocean to meet their basic needs. Most groups will eventually create a total crash of fish stocks in the ocean. After discussing the game and its meaning, students will propose new rules for the game, to make fishing sustainable.

Credit: Slightly adapted from “Fishing for the Future,” © by Facing the Future: People and the Planet, 2004 (used with permission).

Focus Questions:

  • How does technology change our success in fishing?
  • How can we use resources in ways that are sustainable?

Engagement: (one class period or less)

Ask students to tell the class about different ways that they have caught fish, and list the types of technology that they have used for fishing (fishing pole, dip net, gill net, etc.).

Show a few photos and/or illustrations of traditional , previous and current fishing technology and ask the students to compare them:

Which is older? How many fish could be caught at one time? How far could you go in a day to find fish? How many people does it take to use this? How might fishing with this affect other species besides the one you were trying to catch?

If possible, invite an elder or someone in your community with many years of experience fishing in your area to join the discussion and to share stories of fishing and how they have seen it change. Or, read the Halibut Cove Story about how changing technology affected fishing in that area.

Reflect on what happened to the bidarki in Investigation 1 when technology changed and ask what might happen to fish populations as the technology changes.

Introduce and discuss the idea of sustainability:

“Sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without limiting the ability of people, other species, and future generations to survive.”

Tell students that today they're going to go fishing and find out more about sustainability and about how fishing success is affected by technology.

Exploration: (one class period with explanation)

Divide the class into groups of three or four students and have each group choose a place to fish such as Bristol Bay, Kodiak Island, Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, etc.

Have students set up a Fishing Log in their science notebooks by inserting a copy of the prepared log or creating their own tables.

Give each group one serving bowl containing 20 kidney beans and 10 lima beans and each student one cup, one straw, and one copy of the Fishing Log per student.

Explain the game rules:

  • Each student will be a “fisher” whose livelihood depends on catching fish.
  • Lima beans represent halibut, and kidney beans represent salmon.
  • Each fisher must catch at least two fish (large or small) in each round to survive (i.e., get enough fish to either eat or sell).
  • When the fishing begins, students must hold their hands behind their backs and use the “fishing rod” (straw) to suck “fish” (beans) from the “ocean” (bowl) and deposit them into their “boat” (cup).
  • The fish remaining in the ocean after each fishing season represent the breeding population, and thus one new fish will be added for every fish left in the ocean (bowl).

Play the game:

  • Say “start fishing” and give the students 20 seconds for the first “season” of fishing.
  • Have each fisher count his or her catch (beans in their cup) and record the data in a Fishing Log in their science notebooks.
  • Fishers who did not catch the two-fish minimum must sit out for the following round.
  • Add one new fish for every fish left in the ocean (bowl).

Allow fishers to use their hands on the straws during the second session to represent “new technology.” After the second fishing season, give one fisher from each group a spoon or a small tea strainer representing more new fishing technology such as trawl nets, sonar equipment, etc. Continue the game for round three.

Ask, “What happened when ocean group [name] ran out of fish? How are the fishers going to survive now?” (One option is to move to another place in the ocean.) Allow students to “invade” other ocean groups when their fishing place is depleted, but don't tell them that they can do this beforehand. Fishers may either go as a group to another place in the ocean or they may disperse to other places.

Repeat fishing, recording, and replenishing fish stocks until either sustainable fishing is achieved or until all (or most) groups fish out their ocean.

Explanation: (one class period with Exploration)

Use the following sample questions to lead a discussion about the activity:

  • How did you feel when you realized that you had depleted your fish stock?
  • How did you feel when other fishers came to your fishing place?
  • How does this activity relate to real ocean and fishery issues?
  • What's missing in this game? (Other predators on the fish such as sea lions, whales, and bears; a biologist counting the fish in the population and making predictions about the impact of harvesting.)
  • How do changes in technology affect the success rate of the fishery? What happens to those who are still using the old technology?

Have students brainstorm ways to have a sustainable fishery. What rules could be developed? (For example, limits on type of equipment allowed, amount and type of fish, shorter seasons.) Read Fishery Facts and share information with students.

Elaboration (one class period or less)

Ask students to write new rules for the fishing game, in their science notebooks. The objective of their new rules should be to make sure that the “fish” are never depleted and that no one has to sit out of the game. If time permits, ask a volunteer to share their proposed rules, then discuss, adapt, and agree upon the new rules as a class. Allow students to try the game using the new “sustainable” fishery rules.


Students can research which fish are harvested in a sustainable manner and which are being depleted. Have them do an advertising campaign in their school promoting the consumption of sustainable fish and avoiding the consumption of threatened fish. (This might include researching the kind of fish served in your school cafeteria, developing a system that protects threatened fish, and presenting it to your cafeteria staff, principal, and school board.) For recommendations about which seafood to buy or avoid, and why, from the standpoint of sustainable fisheries, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Web site Seafood Watch (for an overview, more links, and a downloadable pocket card for the West Coast).

See Popcorn Scarcity for an activity that further explores what happens when people compete for finite resources.

See Project Wild for additional activities including “Net Gain, Net Effect.”


  1. Use students’ responses to class discussion and their new proposed game rules to assess their level of understanding.
  2. Ask them to write a response to each of the focus questions in their science notebook.

The following criteria could be used to evaluate students’ grasp of the concepts:

  • Gives examples of older and newer fishing technology.
  • Explains that with more efficient technology fewer people can catch more fish in a shorter time.
  • Cites depletion of fishery resources as a possible effect of changing technology.
  • Demonstrates an understanding of what is meant by “sustainability.”
  • Acknowledges personal responsibility and willingness to alter behavior or use of technology for a more sustainable fishery.
  • Shows understanding of at least three of the following means of sustaining fisheries:
  • Limits on allowable technology.
  • Limits on the number of fishers.
  • Limits on the amount of fish caught by each fisher..
  • Limits on the season or the time that fishing is allowed.
  • Allowing fishing only in some areas.

Teacher Preparation:

Tips from Teachers

No tips are currently available.

Optional: Contact an elder or retired fisherman in your community and invite them to visit the class. Read Fishery Facts for interesting facts and information about fishing/fisheries.

To prepare for the game, count out the first round of beans and place them in cups or bags. Each group of three to four students will start with 20 kidney beans and 10 lima beans.

Curricular Connections:

History. Create a timeline that shows how fishing technology has developed through the ages or in Alaska.

Social Studies. Study how different cultures have used similar methods in different parts of the world to harvest ocean resources.

Ideas for adapting to different local environment or context:

  • Have students research a local fishery and include interviews with local fishers, biologists, and other people involved with the fishery.
  • Have students investigate conflicting uses of another commonly owned resource in your community.
  • Discuss possible solutions or take action to promote sustainable use.
  • Study traditional methods of fishing by Native people in your region.
  • Interview people in your community who make their living from fishing.


Materials Needed for Investigation 2:

Student Handouts

Fishing Log copies or example PDF

Science notebooks

Items for Group Display

Pictures of traditional , previous and current fishing technologies PDF

Material Items

Pictures of fishing technology (webistes above)

1 bag each of two types of large dry beans (such as kidney beans and lima beans—one should be bigger than the other)

Small cups, 1 per student

Serving bowls, medium size, 1 per group

Spoons or small tea strainers, 1 per group

Straws, 1 per student

Watch or stopwatch, for timing activity


Glue and scissors

Fishery Facts document

Facility/Equipment Requirements

Overhead Projector or LCD projector to show fishing technology photos.

Alaska Science Grade Level Expectations Addressed:

3rd Grade GLEs addressed:
The student demonstrates an understanding that solving problems involves different ways of thinking, perspectives, and curiosity by:
[3] SE2.1 identifying local tools and materials used in everyday life (L)

The student demonstrates an understanding of how scientific discoveries and technological innovations affect our lives and society by:
[3] SE3.1 listing the positive and negative effects of a single technological development in the local community (e.g., fish trap, fish wheel, four-wheeler, computer) (L)

4th Grade GLEs addressed:
The student demonstrates an understanding that solving problems involves different ways of thinking, perspectives, and curiosity by:
[4] SE2.1 identifying the function of a variety of tools (e.g., spear, hammer, hand lens, kayak, computer)

The student demonstrates an understanding of how scientific discoveries and technological innovations affect our lives and society by:
[4] SE3.1 listing the positive and negative effects of a scientific discovery

5th Grade GLEs addressed:
The student demonstrates an understanding that solving problems involves different ways of thinking, perspectives, and curiosity by:
[5] SE2.1 investigating a problem or project over a specified period of time and identifying the tools and processes used in that project. (L)

The student demonstrates an understanding of how scientific discoveries and technological innovations affect our lives and society by:
[5] SE3.1 describing the various effects of an innovation (e.g., snow machines, airplanes, immunizations) on the safety, health, and environment of the local community. (L)


Essential Questions:

  • How do people interact with the ocean?
  • What can we do to take care of the ocean?

Enduring Understandings:

  • Connections between humans and the ocean are important.
  • Everyone is responsible for caring for the ocean.
  • Science is a way to help us study the many connections in our world.
Alaska Sea Grant University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Department of Education and Early Development NOAA