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Students play a game to learn about salmon allocation and the affects of over-harvest on a
population. Participants make decisions about how many beans (representing a fish population)
they will take from a common source. Students will experiment with adjusting their take in order
to harvest the maximum number of fish while maintaining a stable or increasing
Subjects: Geography, Math
Duration: One to two class periods
Group Size: This activity is designed for a group of ten students, but larger or smaller
groups can play by adjusting the math.
Grade Level: 3 - 5
Students will be able to:
Describe the effects of over-harvest on a salmon population
Explain the importance of salmon to many communities in Alaska
Manage harvest levels to maintain a sustainable population.
Alaska Content and Performance Standards
240 beans or poker chips to represent fish
Paper and pencil for each student
B-3: Formulate mathematical problems that arise from everyday situations.
B-4: Develop and apply strategies to solve a variety of problems.
C-3: Develop, test, and defend mathematical hypotheses
A-1: Use maps to locate places and regions
D-5: Analyze how conflict and cooperation shape social, economic, and political use of space.
E-3: Understand the varying capacities of physical systems, such as watersheds, to support human activity.
E-4: Determine the influence of human perceptions on resource utilization and the environment.
Salmon are important to river communities in many ways. They are the most important
commercial fishery on the Yukon and serve as a subsistence food source. Managing this fishery
for maximum harvest while allowing enough salmon to escape and spawn is a complex task.
This activity focuses on the salmon populations of the Yukon River, but it can easily be adapted
to represent fish populations important to different communities.
Use an overhead projector to trace the Alaska map onto butcher paper, or make photocopies for
the class to use. Have the students study the map and familiarize themselves with the location of
the Yukon River and the communities found along it. Have each student choose a community to
represent . Make sure to include villages found all along the river from the Alaska coast into
Canada. If time permits, have the students research their chosen community and share
information about it's size, economy, and reliance on fish for food.
Discuss the salmon life cycle. The students should understand that almost 50% of the chinook
salmon caught in the Yukon River are on their way to spawning grounds in Canada.
Arrange students in a circle on the floor sitting in sequence according to where their
village is found on the river. A bowl of 20 beans will represent the population of salmon
swimming up the river every summer. Start with the student representing a coastal community.
Tell them to harvest the number of fish from the bowl that their village needs, then pass the fish
on to the next community up the river. Inevitably, the bowl of beans runs out long before the fish
make it all the way up the river.
This situation naturally leads to a discussion about the economic and subsistence needs of
communities all along the Yukon and the cultural importance of the salmon. Ask the students:
"How many fish are left to spawn and bring salmon back in coming years?" If the answer after
our first round is "zero", this can lead to a discussion on the need for escapement so that a
population can replenish itself.
Have the students experiment with developing harvest regulations which permit an adequate
catch for each village while allowing some fish to escape and spawn. Give them a bowl
containing 240 beans and tell them that for every two fish (a male and female) that are allowed to
spawn, three new fish will be added to the population (the original pair dies).
For example: The students decide to allow each community to harvest 10 fish. 10 fish x 10
communities = 100 total fish harvested along the river. 140 fish (70 pair) remain in the
population to spawn. These pairs produce 210 young (70 pair x 3 young each) which are
available for future harvest.
View the film, Return of the King. (This can be borrowed from the Fairbanks Fish & Wildlife Field
Office 907-456-0558) It does an excellent job of demonstrating the importance of the returning
king salmon to the villages along the Yukon. Biologists and managers are also interviewed to
illustrate the difficulties of studying and managing these fish to preserve the long-term health of
the population while maintaining a sustainable harvest.
Text and graphics by USFWS staff
Last modified 24, February, 2009
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