Plenty of Fish in the Sea?

The lab activity described here was created by Erin Bardar and Sarah L Hill of TERC for the EarthLabs project.

Summary and Learning Objectives

Students begin this investigation by watching several short videos and reading a NOAA article to learn about some some of the ways that declining fish populations have come to be, what fishing management and sustainable catches mean, and how the U.S. established fisheries to monitor fishing. In Part B, students examine graphs and read data maps to explore how the increase in the global number of fishing vessels and the ability for fishing to take place over more of the global ocean by more people than ever before led to a decline in the numbers of fish available. The investigation concludes with students reading the data from the UN's FAO to learn about how fish are used after they're caught - both for food and non-food uses.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

  • explain some of the ways humans are affected by the declining health and productivity of fisheries;
  • explain some of the basic rules governing U.S. fisheries;
  • evaluate changes over time in global marine catch by visual inspection of an animated sequence of data maps; and
  • discuss how fish are used globally.

Open the Student Lab »

Context for use

This is the first lab in the EarthLabs Fisheries unit. Students are introduced to the changes in fishing trends since 1950 and the concept of sustainable fishing practices. This investigation also provides students with experience in manipulating and interpreting scientific data and graphs.

The entire lab should take one to two 50- to 60-minute class periods. The videos in Part A total approximately 15 minutes in length. Part A can be assigned as homework. Part B will require approximately 20 to 30 minutes for students to walk through the steps for accessing and comparing the catch maps. Part C is reading and interpreting graphs of data and can also be assigned as homework.

Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

For Part B, students will be examining graphs and data from the UN's 2018 State of the World's Fisheries and Aquaculture report. In Part C, students will read an excerpt from the report. The full 2018 report can be found in the Background Information at the bottom of this page.

In Part C, students can view and interpret the species density graphs directly on the student activity page.

Printable Materials

  • Activity Sheet ( and )
  • SOFIA excerpt - Fish Utilization & Processing (Acrobat (PDF) 136kB Jul8 20)


Teaching Notes and Tips

For Part B, the Sea Around Us globe is divided into a coverage of 180,000 cells covering the global ocean. Each cell is 1/2 by 1/2 degree. The data/color key for the Sea Around Us uses polynomial number expressions that some students may not be familiar with. You may want to take a moment to help students understand the system (or remind those who should be familiar with it) for their notation purposes. Also, note that as the data shifts by species or country, while the colors in the key stay the same, the numerical values may change.

Have students change the map data to display different groups of fish or different county data. China is now the largest fishing country, students can view how they initially were very limited on the global oceans. Suggest they choose a single commercial species and different countries that fish, or a single country, like the U.S., and see where they fish for different commercial species.

Students may note, depending on the country or species they're looking at, that empty circles appear around certain countries. These are the international EEZs and may need to be explained. When looking at U.S. fishing catches, catches in the Pacific ocean around some island areas may be accounted for by the U.S. protectorates, which include Pacific islands such as Guam and American Samoa.


You can assess student understanding of topics addressed in this Investigation by grading their responses to the Stop and Think questions.


State and National Science Teaching Standards

Additional Resources

Background Information

The report, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO): The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018, is published every two years to provide objective and global views of capture fisheries and aquaculture, as well as associated policy issues.

For more information about using the Sea Around Us.

More about The U.S. EEZ

Pedagogic Considerations

The NAGT/DLESE On the Cutting Edge project's Best Practices from Education and Cognitive Science Research provides information about what cognitive science research says about why teaching with visualizations (including time-lapse animations) is effective.