HOME: The Story of Maine

"They Came by Sea"
Lesson 3: Lobster Roll!

(for use with Module 1)


Guiding Principles

1. A Clear and Effective Communicator

  • Uses oral, written, visual, artistic, and technological modes of expression.

    2. A Creative and Practical Problem Solver

  • Identifies patterns, trends, and relationships that apply to solutions to problems.

    3. A Collaborative and Quality Worker

  • Knows the structure and functions of the labor market.

    4. An Intergrative and Informed Thinker

  • Applies knowledge and skills in and across English language arts, visual and performing arts, foreign languages, health and physical education, mathematics, science, social studies, and career preparation.

    MATHEMATICS: Data Analysis and Statistics

  • Students will understand and apply concepts of data analysis. Students will be able to:

    Secondary Grades: Predict and draw conclusions from charts, tables, and graphs that summarize data from practical situations.

    MATHEMATICS: Patterns, Relations, Functions

  • Students will understand that mathematics is the science of patterns, relationships, and functions. Students will be able to:

    Secondary Grades
    Create a graph to represent a real-life situation and draw inferences from it.


  • Students will understand how living things depend on one another and on non-living aspects of the environment. Students will be able to:

    Secondary Grades

  • Analyze the factors that affect population size.
  • Analyze the impact of human and other activities on the type and pace of the environment.


  • Students will communicate effectively in the application of science and technology. Students will be able to:

    Secondary Grades:

  • Employ graphs, tables, and maps in making arguments and drawing conclusions.
  • Critique models, stating how they do and do not effectively represent the real phenomenon.

    Implications Of Science And Technology

  • Students will understand the historical, social, economics, environmental, and ethical implications of science and technology. Students will be able to:

    Secondary Grades: Demonstrate the importance of resource management, controlling environmental impacts, and maintaining natural ecosystems.

    SOCIAL STUDIES: Geography: Human Interaction with Environments
  • Students will understand and analyze the relationships among people and their physical environments. Students will be able to:

    Secondary Grades: Explain factors that shape places and regions over time (e.g. physical and cultural factors).

  • Students will:

    • Play a game that illustrates the delicate ecological balance between fishing, fishing regulations and fish populations.
    • Collect data as they play the game.
    • Graph the data and analyze the results they find.
    • Write an analysis of the results, and explain how economic decisions can affect the environment.
    Background Information:

    If you want to demonstrate dramatically the way human economic decisions can affect the environment, this game is a good one to play with your students. It is a model that simulates the impact that the lobster fishery can have on the lobster population. Students act as teams of lobster fishermen, and make economic decisions about the intensity of their fishing. Meanwhile, as they fish, they keep track of the lobster population. They fish one round in an unregulated system, and another in a regulated system that limits the number of days people may fish. When they have finished the game, you have an opportunity to discuss how unregulated fishing can harm a fish population, though it may be better in the short term for people’s pocketbooks. Regulated fishing, on the other hand, can be riskier economically, but it helps ensure the health of a fish population, which is important if the fishery is to remain an important force in the economy.

    Please note: the rules and figures represented in the game do not necessarily correspond with reality. The prices set on traps, boats, maintenance costs, as well as the method of regulating the fishery, and other items, may differ greatly from how things truly are. The point of the game is not to focus on the specific figures, but to look at the larger trends. Encourage students to ask questions that analyze the data: how is the lobster population affected when there are more traps in the ocean? How are people affected when fishing is regulated? These are the important questions.

    This is a complex game to explain on paper, but once you begin to play it, the many rules should become clear. You may want to play it once outside of the classroom—with family or friends—before you teach it to your students, to make sure all the rules are clear to you.

    • Several copies of both the Team Spreadsheets and the Class Spreadsheets. For each round of the game, students will need one sheet for their own team ("Team Spreadsheet"), and one for the status of the total lobster population and the market ("Class Spreadsheet")
    • Class Spreadsheet copied on a transparency
    • Overhead projector
    • Calculators for each team
    • Pencils with erasers
    • 4 sets of dice
    • A large supply of pennies, paper clips, erasers, or some other item. Elect one item—pennies, for example—to stand for lobster traps. One penny should be equivalent to 100 traps. Have another item stand for boats. As students buy boats and traps, use these items to help them keep track of how many they have (like hotels in Monopoly).
    • Copies of Game Rules for students
    • Sample Spreadsheets and Sample Graphs depicting an Unregulated round and a Regulated round of the game
    • Graph paper, rulers
    3-4 class periods
    1. Break the class into four teams. Each team represents a fleet of lobster boats. Each team starts out with 1 boat, 200 traps, and $5,000. Tell students to mark the beginning number of boats and cash on their Team Spreadsheets in the appropriate columns. Use the Sample Spreadsheets as models.
    2. Put the transparency of the Class Spreadsheet up on an overhead projector. During the game, you will be keeping track of the class data on this sheet. Students should also keep the same records on their own Class Spreadsheets. They will need to use the data later when they graph the results.
    3. Give each team two dice. Explain to them that the first round of the game will not be regulated. Each team will be fishing for 150 days. Remind students that the rules, prices, costs, and other items represented in the game do not necessarily reflect what they are in real life. For example, there are many more than 1,000,000 lobsters in the Gulf of Maine, but for the purposes of the game, that is the figure they are starting out with. Also, lobster fishermen generally do not fish in "teams;" again, this is only for the purpose of the game. The important thing is that they look at the larger trends in the data they will be gathering.
    4. Explain the game rules to the students. Play a practice round to clarify the rules. Begin by having each team roll to determine their team’s rate of success. See the Game Rules for details.
    5. Continue to follow the steps outlined in detail in the Game Rules. Students should continue to keep track of their results, while you keep track of the lobster population on the Class Spreadsheet on the overhead.
    6. After several years in an unregulated round of the game, you will begin to notice that the lobster population is declining. Once the population figure reaches zero, or becomes negative, stop the game immediately: there are no more lobsters in the ocean! Use this time to discuss with students why they think the population declined so sharply. Ask them to analyze their behavior as fishermen. Use questions like the following:
      • As they were fishing, were they thinking about the health of the lobster population at all? Were they focused mainly on making a profit?
      • How did their fishing behavior affect the lobster population?
      • What do they think might happen if there were no fishermen? Would the lobster population grow exponentially? Or would another predator keep it under control?
      • What happens to a predator (fishermen in this case) when the population of its prey declines?
    7. Now, play a round of the game in a regulated system. Use the formula in the Game Rules to determine how many days teams can fish each year. The number of days allowed will change each year, based on the lobster population and number of traps in use. See the Game Rules for details.
    8. Again, play several years of the game, keeping track of the population as you go. It should stay relatively stable, or even increase. After seven or eight years, stop the round, and ask students to analyze the data they’ve collected. What happened this time around? Did the regulations frustrate them? Did they have a harder time making money? Did anyone go out of business? What was the impact of their behavior on the lobster population? Even if it was harder to make money, did they think they could have survived on what they were making? Which system did they like better?
    9. You may wish to play with the model in order to get different results. Some suggestions:
      • Change the base rate of population growth (raise or lower the value of r). This will alter how the lobster population reproduces each year.
      • Change the prices on boats and/or traps, or the yearly maintenance costs for these items. Notice how this affects profits, and then how profits affect fishing behavior.
      • Change the way the fishing season is regulated. Notice how this affects the lobster population.
    10. After you have played a few rounds of the game, and collected your data, have students analyze the data more formally by graphing the results. Use the sample graphs as models for your students to follow. Have them work individually or in pairs.
    11. When students have completed their graphs, lead a discussion about the data and the game. Ask some of the following questions:
      • What did this game teach you about what it might be like to be a fisherman?
      • Why is it important to regulate fishing?
      • Do you have alternative suggestions for how fishing should be regulated? What are they? Why might they work better than the regulation method in the game?
      • If you made any changes in the game rules, how did they change the results?
      • How does the game illustrate how human economic decisions affect the environment?
      • This game is only a simulation of what happens in the real world. How accurate is it? What factors does the game leave out? How might a fisherman criticize this game? How might a biologist criticize this game?
    12. Have students write a 1-2 page analysis to accompany their graphs. In their analysis, they should explain each graph, discuss why they believe the lobster population acted as it did in each round of the game, and discuss why resource management is important to Maine’s economy. Grade students based on the accuracy of their graphs, and the thoroughness of their analysis.
    • Research the ways the lobster fishery is regulated in Maine.
    • Invite a lobster fisherman to come speak to the class, to discuss management of the lobster fishery.
    • Learn about other fisheries and/or resources in Maine that are affected by human impact. Create another version of the game for hunting, tourism, or forestry.
    • Read and discuss "The Tragedy of the Commons," by Garrett Hardin. It is one of the seminal works on how regulation (or the lack thereof) influences human impact on the environment. You may find it in Science, Vol. 163, No. 13, p. 1243-1248.
    • For an opposing opinion, have students read sections of Julian Simon’s The Ultimate Resource. Though not specifically about fisheries, Simon discusses how unregulated resource use can be better for both the economy and the environment.
    * This lesson is based on a game created by Adam Davis for his Marine Biology class at Northshore High School, Seacliff, New York.

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