skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Kate Wing’s Blog

Let's Play Ocean Manager!

Kate Wing

Posted September 24, 2007

, , , ,
Share | | |

I've been jealously reading the blogfish updates from last week's Stanford Business School conference on environmental sustainability. I think Mark is the only enviro-type or fish person there, which seems all the more fun because he gets to hear so many new ideas. He also got to share a little bit about what it's like to work in the fisheries world by getting everyone to play a game where you tried to manage a fishery sustainably. It doesn't sounds like there was much success, even among the MBAs. Now, I don't know the details of how they ran the simulation, but there's no reason you can't try your own fisheries games at home. Here's a low-tech version suitable for your next barbecue, cocktail party, or quiet time with the family:

In a large, sturdy bowl mix together a bag of goldfish crackers and peanut M&Ms. This is your fishery. Gather everyone around the bowl. Have someone serve as the timer while everyone else is a "fisherman." Tell everyone their goal is to gather as many snack bits out of the bowl as they can and yell start. You can try and yell "stop" before the bowl is empty, which would be like setting a harvest level, or you can just see how fast the bowl empties out, which is like a fishery that's just been discovered. Have everyone count their M&Ms and crackers. The person with the most snacks wins! They're the "highliner" and can sit back and relax until the next season. Want to make it more realistic? Try one of these variations.

  • Give the different M&M colors different values, say, the blue one are worth a lot of money and the red ones are worth nothing. Tell your guests they can't put any fish back in the bowl once they touch them, but they want to make as much money as they can.
  • Give out different "fishing gears": a ladle, chopsticks, tongs, etc.
  • Vary the "habitat." I think using a cookie sheet instead of a bowl is cheating because in the sea, you can't see the fish that well and they're not all spread out, but it does allow each 'fisherman' more control over their areas. You can also use separate smaller bowls stashed in different locations around the house, which works well in combo with a longer time limit and variation #1.
  • Deduct points for broken goldfish.
  • Count all of the snack bits before you put them in the bowl. Once everyone has grabbed their 'fish', tell them to estimate how many were in the bowl to begin with looking only at their own pile. The person who comes closest is named the "Stock Assessment Biologist" and must be addressed as "Dr." for the rest of the evening.
You may think these are ridiculously oversimplified, and they certainly require cheaper equipment and less fuel than actual fishing. But the actual concepts aren't that different. How do you manage something where you don't control the production, you can't really count your inventory, and the incentive is to get as much as you can as fast as you can? If you work something out at your party, let us know.
Share | | |


Mark PowellSep 24 2007 07:23 PM

I wasn't alone, Kate, but I won't "out" anyone else. Blogging raised some concern, so I agreed to no names or quotes. I like your fishery games. They capture the essential problems just like our game did.

Interesting, later in the class we playd a "Prisoners Dilemma" game and the collective action worked, nobody went for self interest and the group came out ahead overall.

Check back for more as blogfish reflects on the program, lessons learned, and next steps. Hard to summarize a weeks worth of good learning.

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Stay Plugged In