5.2 Sustainable recreational fishing
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Curriculum Alignment

8, 14, 18, 19, 25

Years K-6: English, Science & Technology, HSIE, Creative Arts
Years 7-10: English, Geography, Science, Visual Arts 
Years 11-12: Earth and Environmental Sciences, English, Geography, Visual Arts

SOSE, Science, Geography
Futures, Interdependence, Thinking

Science, Thinking Processes, Geography

>Students explore strategies for how to use natural resources sustainably
>Students are familiarised with the ‘tragedy of the commons’ concept

1 hour

Materials required
>Fish tokens (make these in the class)
>Three bowls (one per group)
>Cups (one per student)

Based on Fisheries and Ocean Canada Stream to Sea by Dianne Sanford
Australia has a great diversity of fishing opportunities in environments spanning thousands of kilometres. From the humid tropics to the cool, temperate waters of the south, shore and boat recreational anglers seek a multitude of species, in thousands of locations.

Fishing for food has been practised in Australia by Aboriginal people for thousands of years and since the earliest visits by explorers. 

Recreational fishing in Australia is a billion dollar a year industry, and an important leisure activity for over 4.5 million Australians.

However, recreational fisheries around Australia are at the crossroads. The next decade could see the decline and destruction of many of our key recreational fisheries, or alternatively these valuable fish stocks and their environment could be conserved and restored for the next generations.

Recreational fishing is one of Australia’s most popular relaxation activity. Photograph: Bill Phillips
Recreational fishing is one of Australia’s most popular relaxation activity. Photograph: Bill Phillips

Our fish stocks and their habitats are under threat from many directions.  Increasing fishing pressure on inshore fish stocks from both recreational and commercial fishers, environmental damage and aquatic habitat degradation from poor land management practices, dams and pollution from industrial and urban discharge are joining forces to push many fish stocks into decline. 

This over-use of recreational fisheries illustrates the tragedy of the commons, a dilemma described in an influential article by Garrett Hardin in Science in 1968. The article describes a situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently, solely and rationally with their own self-interest in mind, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen.

Central to Hardin’s article is an example, of herders sharing a common parcel of land, on which they are each entitled to let their cows graze. In Hardin’s example, it is in each herder’s interest to put the next (and succeeding) cows he acquires onto the land, even if the carrying capacity of the common is exceeded and it is temporarily or permanently damaged for all as a result. The herder receives all of the benefits from an additional cow, while the damage to the common is shared by the entire group. If all herders make this individually rational economic decision, the common will be depleted or even destroyed to the detriment of all.

In this lesson students get to consider the ethical as well as resource management challenges of sustaining fish stocks, and guaranteeing the future for recreational fishing as an integral part of the Australian lifestyle.

More generally, students are challenged with the question, “How do we meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs?”

Tragedy of the commons
Free-rider problem
Over fishing 

Lesson plan
1. In preparation for this lesson, during class time or as homework, students should research what fish are endangered, threatened and vulnerable in their part of the Murray-Darling Basin (see also Module in 1.1).

2. Organise the class into three groups and give them one bowl each. Give one cup to each student.

3. Place eight fish tokens in each bowl and explain that there will be two turns per round and several rounds per game.

4. For each turn, each student can remove either zero or one fish and place it in their own cup. Once fish are taken from the bowl they cannot be put back. 

5. Explain that after each round (that is, two turns for each student) you will double the number of fish in the bowl and then there will be more turns when they can withdraw a fish.

Remind Students that
2 x 0 = 0!

6. Point out to the students that the object of the game is to get the most fish in their individual cups. 

7. No fish are to be eaten during the game!

8. For the first game tell students there is to be no talking or other communication.

9. At least some groups will deplete all their fish after the first round, but go ahead and play three rounds—they are just out of luck, but it is still good to emphasize the long term consequences of their “overfishing”. 

10. They may try to put fish back in the bowl, but explain that the fish are already dead and therefore can’t reproduce to make more fish. 

11. For the second game, allow students to talk for 30 seconds and then play another game in silence. 

12. Usually results improve somewhat.

Fishing is fun for families. Photograph: Matt Hansen
Fishing is fun for families. Photograph: Matt Hansen

13. For the third game tell students that they can create rules among themselves about how to play the game (but that the rules of the overall game cannot be changed). 

14. To enact the rules a majority must agree and then all must follow the rules. 

15. Discuss the results of this activity. Point out that this is an example of a ‘tragedy of the commons’ where doing what is best individually does not lead to the best result in the long run for the community or resource management.

Ask students to discuss the strategies that emerged for them to optimally manage their fish resource. 
Students will remove one fish per round (forgo one of their two turns) and then in each round their fish are replenished. But if everybody else follows this strategy, it still pays an individual not to. If three players take one fish and one player takes two, then there are three left and they double to six. Then if all take one, the “defecting” player ends up with three in total compared to two in total for the “co-operators”.

If the students know how
many rounds will be played,
then it makes sense to take
all the fish on the last round,
so leave the number of rounds

Secondary pathway
Have students research and report to the class using a Powerpoint presentation on one the following ‘commons’: 

>Overfishing on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland
>Columbia River Salmon fishery
>North Atlantic Sturgeon fishery
>Water use in the Aral Sea
>2006 Zakouma elephant slaughter 
>Central African bushmeat
>Illegal logging
>North Sea fishery
>Peruvian coastal anchovy fishery
>Sole fishery in the Irish Sea
>Orange Roughy fishery
>Patagonian Toothfish fishery
>Tuna fishery
>Water use in the Great Lakes
>New Jersey Oyster industry

Students should report on the history and conditions that set up the ‘commons’ scenario, the result, and the actions that are taking place to ameliorate the situation.
After the presentations, discuss why so many ‘tragedies of commons’ are associated with fishing and water resources.

Have students come up with a list of ways to prevent and fix such issues, including the pros and cons of each approach including limits to personal freedom? 
How can these competing needs be ethically balanced?

Sustaining native fish populations is helped by releasing the big breeding animals back into the river. Photograph: Matt Hansen