Not enough fish in the sea

Fishbanks is management flight simulator developed by MIT’s John Sterman and offered for free through the school’s LearningEdge platform, which provides free case studies and simulations on a range of topics. Fishbanks illustrates the sustainability issues facing organizations by challenging players to build a profitable commercial fishing business without depleting fish stocks.

Balancing Sustainability and Profitability

Fishbanks is an interactive, web-based management flight simulator developed by MIT Sloan researcher and system dynamics pioneer John Sterman, based on the classic game originally developed by former MIT Sloan faculty member and sustainability pioneer Dennis Meadows. Offered for free through MIT Sloan’s LearningEdge platform, it is a unique way for students to understand the challenges inherent in sustainably managing finite resources.

Players in Fishbanks are divided into teams of fishing companies. Each team seeks to maximize its profit by competing to catch as many fish as possible without depleting stocks. The oceans are home to a pool of fish that is accessible to each fleet. The object and challenge of the game is to catch as many fish as possible and not overtax fish stocks while in direct competition with the other fleets.


When you give a lecture about overfishing, students nod and say, ‘you’d have to be kind of foolish to wipe the stocks out,’” says Sterman. “But then they play the game and that’s exactly what they do. It makes a huge impact.


The original version of Fishbanks, created by Limits to Growth author Dennis Meadows in 2001, is a board game that uses wooden chips used to represent each fishing fleet. In 2011, Sterman created an interactive, scalable web-based version. “It can be played during a 90-minute workshop, or over the course of an entire semester,” he says. “And we’re teaching elementary school teachers how to play it with their students. The basic lessons of the game are relevant at any age.” Fishbanks can be found here.