Gear Up, Situation Solvers

Age 11, group or independent

45 minutes, indoors or outdoors


Use problem-solving questions to simulate the decisions that fisher folk make about gear used for fishing.


Gear-Up situation solvers, pencils, calculators (optional)

Get Set

  • Decide whether this will be an individual or small group activity. (Six decision-making situations are described.)
  • Duplicate and distribute the gear-up situation solvers, pencils and calculators.
  • Advise everyone that the process for obtaining the answers is more important than the correct answer. (This activity is excellent for brainstorming and collaborative effort. However, check the correct answer because in many instances the answer to the next question builds on the previous answer.)

Go catch

  • Read the scenarios for each gear type.
  • Answer the questions.
  • Review the answers as a group.
  • Discuss the problem-solving technique used, and relate it to how fisher folk make their decisions.


  • Provide family and friends at home the gear-up situation solver sheets and help them make decisions similar to those that fishermen and fisherwomen make daily.

Gear-Up Situation Solvers

Decision 1

From May through September, fisher folk in northern and central California fish for king salmon with hook and line gear. The gear is towed by boats at a speed of about two miles per hour. This fishing method is called trolling. The boats and fisher folk are commonly referred to as trollers. Trollers tow 4 to 6 fishing lines at one time. Hooks tied to leaders (short pieces of clear line) are clipped onto the fishing lines at 3-fathom intervals (18 feet).

Maria is a fisherwoman from Bodega Bay. She and her crew are getting ready to troll for king salmon.

1. If the boat has 6 lines and the crew has 6 dozen hooks to attach to the lines, 1 dozen for each line, what is the maximum depth in feet and fathoms that Maria's crew can catch king salmon?

(Hint: one fathom = 6 feet; one dozen = 12)

2. Maria pays $5.00 a dozen for her fishing hooks. If she buys new hooks for all of her fishing lines, how much will the hooks cost her?

After salmon season is over, Maria takes her boat and her crew to San Diego to troll for Albacore tuna. Albacore congregate on the warm (blue water) side of upwelling fronts, often great distances from shore. To catch albacore, Maria uses hooks with feathers attached to them, called jigs. She attaches a jig to each of her 6 fishing lines and lets them out to trail behind the boat, skimming the water surface. Maria trolls for albacore at a speed of 5 miles per hour. She and her two crew members spend 15 hours each day fishing, and they fish for a total of 6 days. For their work each crew member earns 15% of the gross value of the catch.

3. How many miles did Maria and her crew travel while trolling for albacore this trip?

4. How many albacore did Maria's crew catch if they averaged catching 5 per hour over the course of the 6-day trip?

5. The albacore tuna in Maria's catch weigh an average of 15 pounds each. How many pounds does Maria have to sell to the tuna cannery?

6. If the cannery pays Maria $1.20 a pound for her tuna ($2,400 per ton), how much money does Maria receive for her catch?

7. How much does each crew member receive from Maria as payment?

Discussion: 1. What other operating expenses besides wages does Maria have to pay to maintain her business?

(Possible answers: fuel, groceries for the trip; boat payment; boat insurance)

2. What other living expenses must she pay for out of her profit?

(Possible answers: normal living expenses such as mortgage, utilities, groceries, medical and dental bills etc.)

Decision 2

Frank is a round-haul fisherman from San Pedro. He fishes mostly for squid, mackerel, and sardines. Frank's boat is a 70-foot wooden seiner that he operates with a crew of eight. He needs a large crew to restack his purse seine net on the deck after each set.

When Frank fishes every day, he uses 3,000 gallons of fuel per month at $.75/gal. Groceries for his crew cost $1,080 a month. Health insurance costs for the crew are $480 per man per month. Fish spotters, who fly over the fishing grounds and can see schools of fish from the airplane, earn 6% (6/100ths) of the total value of the catch on each fishing trip. The crew earns 55% (55/100ths) of the total value, less trip expenses and their share of the cost of groceries.

Trip expenses that are deducted before figuring the crew's share are fuel, health insurance, and the fish spotter's share.

The cost of groceries is divided by the number of crew plus the captain, and that amount is deducted from each crew share.

Frank is ready to go fishing, and he has to consider the following options:

Should he fish for sardines? He would have a 30-ton limit at $90 per ton because that is all the cannery can handle on this day. Or should he fish for mackerel at $140 a ton? Or should he catch squid at $160 a ton?

Frank studies the weather to determine the best place to fish and where the fish might be. Squid are often found on the back side of Catalina Island, but a storm is brewing, and crossing the Channel to get to Catalina would be dangerous. The ocean would be too rough. His spotter pilot tells him that schools of mackerel also were near Catalina, but a dense school of sardines was just outside San Pedro harbor. Frank decides to go fishing for sardines.

He leaves the harbor at nightfall, around 7 PM. It takes him one hour to find the fish the airplane spotter had located earlier. He makes one set and catches his 30-ton limit. He is back in the harbor by midnight and offloads his catch at 5 AM the next morning.

1. How much money did Frank receive for his sardine catch?

2. What were the trip expenses for this trip?

(Hint: figure the monthly cost for each trip expense, divide each by 30, then add average daily costs together.)

3. What was the average cost of groceries for this trip?

4. How much should be deducted from each crew member's share for groceries?

5. How much did each crew member earn for the night's fishing?

(Hint: don't forget to deduct the cost of groceries.)

6. How much did the spotter pilot earn?

7. How much did Frank earn for his night of fishing after paying all his fishing expenses?

Decision 3

Abe has fished for the past 70 years off the southern California coast. Many fisher folk go to Abe for advice on the ocean and fishing gear. Marci has just decided to enter the fishing business. She meets with Abe to discuss the fishing gear she should buy to maximize her production and profit. Marci wants to fish around the Channel Islands so she does not have to spend too many nights away from her family. Abe talks to Marci about the different species harvested in the area. These include prawns, sea cucumbers, halibut, California spiny lobster, squid, rockfish, swordfish, tuna and sea urchins. Abe shows Marci the different types of gear used to harvest these species and makes her a list that looks like the one below.

SpeciesGear Type

Marci notices that trawl gear is used to catch more species than any other gear type on the list. She decides to buy trawl gear and fish for California halibut, prawns, and sea cucumbers.

Abe tells Marci that she needs a bottom trawl. That is a net that skims the ocean floor in depths from 18 to 40 fathoms for halibut, 18 to 120 fathoms sea cucumbers, and 90 to 170fathoms for spot prawns. Marci decides to fish for halibut and spot prawns from June through October and mainly for sea cucumbers during the winter. Marci knows that trawl gear usually catches a larger volume of fish per trip than other types of gear.

Abe tells Marci that she needs a single rig shrimp trawl with a 1.5-inch mesh in the catching bag (also called a codend) to catch spot prawns. For halibut and cucumbers, Marci's trawl net must be made of 7.5 inch mesh in the codend if she wants to fish in the halibut trawl grounds, from 1 to 3miles offshore in an area extending from Pt. Arguello to Pt. Mugu. Otherwise, trawling must be done 3 miles or more from the mainland. Abe reminds her of other trawl regulations in southern California: No fishing is allowed in the halibut trawl grounds between March 16 and June 14 to protect halibut when they are spawning. To fish prawns, Marci must fish 3miles or more from shore, or deeper than 25 fathoms. The season for spot prawns runs February through October between Point Arguello and Point Dume. Outside that area fishermen can catch prawns all year long. And California halibut may be fished year-round outside 3 miles. He advises her to get a copy of the Fish and Game regulations, along with her fishing license and permits.

1. Does Marci need different nets for halibut and spot prawns?

2. Fishing regulations enforced by the Department of Fish and Game prohibit Marci from selling halibut smaller than 22 inches long or weighing less than 4pounds. The average halibut caught weighs 10 pounds, and the market price for California halibut is $2.25 per pound. If Marci catches 10 halibut at the average weight, how much money could she sell them for?

3. If Marci earns $.50 a pound for sea cucumbers, $6 a pound for prawns, and $2.25 a pound for halibut, which species can she get the most money for if she catches the same number of pounds of each species?

4. Marci goes fishing for sea cucumbers and catches 500 pounds in one day. The next week she fishes California halibut and catches 28 fish at an average of 12 pounds apiece. She has to put her boat in drydock for repairs. When the boat is fixed, she changes nets and fishes spot prawns, catching 250 pounds. How much does she earn for each species?

5. Which species earned her the most money?

Decision 4

Sea urchin diving is not like other forms of fishing: divers average less than 150 days of work in a year. Big ocean swells, strong winds, or both, make diving very dangerous both for the divers and for the crew responsible for loading the urchins on the boat. Since the ocean is not flat calm very often, divers must learn how to work in moderately rough weather in order to stay in business. That means they must learn how to read the weather patterns, then choose areas to work where they can reduce the effects of the weather.

Normally divers can work in winds of less than 20 knots. Then the wind chop (smaller waves coming at short intervals) does not pose a great hazard when moving from spot to spot or loading heavy bags of sea urchins on deck. When the wind blows more than 20 knots, or when the swell increases (large waves coming at long intervals, such as a 12-foot swell with 15 or 20 seconds between crests), divers must be very careful, if they go to work at all, to choose an area protected from wind and swell. This safe spot is called a lee. There are several lees around Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands, depending on the direction of wind and swell.

Bill has been an urchin diver for more than 20 years. He knows that when the wind blows from the northwest, or a big swell comes from the north, then the southern side of the islands or coast is in the lee. If a big swell or wind is coming from the south, then the northern side of the islands is in the lee. If the wind is blowing strong from the northwest, and a big swell is coming from the south, Bill knows that attempting to cross the Channel would be extremely dangerous and diving would be very difficult. On those days he goes hiking in the hills.

1. Bill wakes up early one morning and listens to the weather radio. The wind is blowing 22 knots northwesterly, but the swell is only 5 feet at 8 seconds (wind chop). Looking at the map (on page 12), where would Bill dive to escape the wind?

2. The wind is calm but the forecast reports a 10-foot south swell, generated from a tropical storm in Mexico. Hearing this, where does Bill decide to dive?

3. The wind is blowing 20 to 30 knots northwest and a south swell is reported at the mid-channel buoy at 8 feet at 20 seconds. What should Bill do?

Besides the weather, a diver must also watch the depth and time he dives to avoid getting the bends, a serious injury caused by spending too much time diving deeper than 33 feet underwater. The Navy dive tables tell Bill he can spend unlimited time underwater at depths less than 33 feet, and he can dive safely at a 60-foot depth for 60minutes. Deeper than 60feet, his time on the bottom decreases rapidly. For example, at 90 feet, he can spend only 30 minutes.

4. If Bill can harvest 200 pounds per hour working at 60 feet, how many pounds of urchins can he harvest working at 90 feet?

5. The wind is blowing 18 knots northwest one morning and a south swell is reported to be 5feet at 15 seconds. Bill knows 2 spots on the south side of the islands where there are sea urchins, one shallow and one deep. He also knows that the long period swell will make the shallow water dirty and will make diving difficult because of the surge. He surveys the deep spot and doesn't find many urchins. What should Bill do?

a. Go to the shallow spot and work in difficult conditions.

b. Move to the north side of the island and work in the wind.

c. Go home.

6. Coastal sea urchins often bring $.15 more a pound than urchins harvested at the islands. The weather is marginal and Bill must decide whether to risk crossing the channel to pick urchins or to run up the coast. He could average 500 pounds a day at the islands, but the fuel to get there costs $90, plus the wear and tear on his boat. Or he could run up the coast but he will average only 300pounds, although the fuel will only cost $25. The price of coastal urchins is $1 a pound. At which place will Bill earn the most money?

7. If you were Bill, what decision would you make?


Identify the areas around the Channel Islands that are in the lee when the wind blows from the northwest.

Which areas are protected when the swell comes from the south?

Decision 5

Joe is a gillnet fisherman from Morro Bay who fishes swordfish from September to January. He closely watches the weather and monitors water temperature breaks, places where cold and warm currents meet, because those areas have abundant nutrients in the water, and the nutrients attract bait fish and larger fish. Joe fishes swordfish from the Oregon border to Mexico and up to 200 miles out to sea, and his typical trip lasts 10 days.

1. On his first trip of the season, Joe spends the first 24 hours steaming out to the grounds and the 10th full day steaming in. Once on the grounds he looks for signs, such as birds diving into the water for food, to help him locate concentrations of bait. Each day he spends 6 hours surveying the ocean, motoring around looking for a likely place to set his net. He sets at dusk and drifts for most of the night. He spends 4 hours a day pulling the net, idling the engine to operate the hydraulic net reel. The rest of the time, the engine is off. Joe figures that he uses 6.5gallons of fuel per hour steaming, 5gallons per hour surveying, and 2 gallons per hour idling. How much fuel did Joe consume on his first 10-day swordfish trip?

2. Joe has been approached by Felix, a spotter pilot who wants to help Joe find fish. A spotter pilot usually receives 15% of the total value of the season's catch, whether he flies every day or not, and Joe must sign a contract with the pilot for the entire season. Usually a spotter pilot can increase an individual's swordfish catch by 50%. The season lasts for 5months and about half of that time the weather is inclement (cloudy) and the pilot cannot fly to spot fish. A swordfish fisherman who does not use an airplane can gross $150,000 in 5 months, on average.

a. Based on an average season's earnings, how much money will Joe make if he uses a spotter pilot?

b. How much must Joe pay Felix?

c. Should Joe hire Felix to spot for him, and why?

3. In late November Joe is ready to leave on another swordfish trip but he can't decide where to go. His last trip was productive, fishing 180 miles to the west. And the weather is not expected to change in the near future. For the past three years at this same time, however, an area 180 miles south had good fishing conditions clear blue water, the proper current flow, and a good temperature break supporting abundant bait. A lot of swordfish were caught in that area, but now fishing in the south is slow. Should Joe go south on a hunch or back west?

4. It's two weeks before Christmas, a time when swordfish usually sell for a high price. But this December has been stormy, and it looks as though winter might be coming early. Joe's wife and children want him to come home before Christmas. Joe would like to make one last big trip and catch a lot of swordfish so he'll have enough money to carry his family through winter, when he can't fish. Joe's best friend has been making short, 2- to 3-day trips not too far from home and catching a few fish each time. What should Joe do? Why?

a. Tie up the boat until after Christmas and enjoy being with his family.

b. Go offshore for a long trip, hoping to catch a lot of fish.

c. Fish locally, catch a few fish at the high price, and be home for the holidays.

Decision 6

Rick has trapped lobsters in southern California for 10 years and now wants to market his lobsters himself to earn more money. In order to market his lobsters, he needs to guarantee a consistent supply each week. He plans the amount of gear he fishes to satisfy the demand of his markets, taking into account the amount of gear he can service on an average day.

Working with a deckhand, a trapper can service 200 traps per day, on average, or 600 traps per week. This allows for unworkable weather and also allows 1/2 day traveling to and from the fishing grounds. The average catch per trap at the beginning of the season is 1.5pounds. Later in the season, the average catch usually drops to .5pound per trap.

1. It is the beginning of the season and Rick finds a buyer who wants 1,000 pounds of lobster per week.

a. How many pounds of lobster can Rick catch in a week's time?

b. How many more pounds does Rick need to fill the order?

2. To meet his market order, Rick contracts to sell the load of another trapper, who can produce as much as Rick does. Now Rick has more lobster than his order calls for, and he needs to find a market for the extra lobster produced by the second trapper. If he sells the extra lobster to a local market, he can earn $8.75 a pound wholesale. If he exports the lobster to Europe or Asia, where spiny lobster is highly prized, he can earn $10.50 a pound, but he also must pay for packaging, labor to box the lobsters, and transportation to the airport, all of which costs 5% of the wholesale price when exporting 1,000 pounds or more. Under 1,000 pounds, the shipping costs double.

(The lobster buyer usually pays for airfreight and the tariff on the imported lobster.)

a. How much can Rick make (gross) by selling the lobster left over from the first order in a local market?

b. How much can Rick gross by exporting the leftover lobster?

c. How much can he earn (net) on the second order after he pays the second trapper $7 a pound for his load:

[1] If he sells to a local market?

[2] If he exports?

3. Because Rick needs at least 200 pounds more on the second order to meet the 1,000-pound discount freight rate for the export market, he contracts with a third boat.

a. How much can Rick gross by exporting 1,000 pounds of lobster?

b. Now how how many pounds of lobster per week does Rick have to sell early in the season, subtracting the 1,000 pounds needed for the first order?

  • c. How much does Rick earn, less shipping expenses, if he exports all the lobster except the 1,000 pounds reserved for his first order?

4. What is the shipping cost per pound:

a. For the 800-pound export shipment?

b. For a 1,000-pound shipment?

c. For a 1,700-pound shipment?

Gear-Up Solvers Answer Page

Decision 1 Answers

1. 216 ft. (12 x 18 = 216); 36 fathoms (216 / 6)

2. $30 (6 dozen x $5.00 = $30)

3. 450 miles (5 mph x 15 hrs x 6 days)

4. 450 fish (5 fish per hr x 15 hrs x 6 days)

5. 6,750 pounds (450 x 15 lb average)

6. $8,100 (6,750 lbs x $1.20 lb)

7. $1,215 ($8,100 x .15)

Decision 2 Answers

1. $2,700 (30 tons x $90 per ton)

2. $365 (fuel = 3,000 gals x $.75 per gal = $2,250 / 30 = $75)

(health insurance = $480 per crew member x 8 crew = $3,840 / 30 =$128)

(spotter pilot = $2,700 x .06 (6%) = $162)

($75 + $128 + $162 = $365)

3. $36 ($1,080 / 30 = $36)

4. $4 ($36 / 9 men, including captain = $4 deduction)

5. $156.53

($2,700 - $365 = $2,335 x .55 = $1,284.25 / 8 = $160.53 - $4 - $156.53

6. $162 ($2,700 x .06 = $162)

7. $916.76

($2,700 gross - $365 trip expense = $2,335 - $162 spotter pilot - $1,252.24 crew wages - $4 groceries for captain = $916.76)

Decision 3 Answers

1. Yes. Minimum mesh size for California halibut is 7.5 inches in the California halibut trawl grounds; mesh size for prawns is 1.5 inches.

2. $225.00 (10 x 10 pounds x $2.25 = $225.00)

3. Prawns at $6 per pound.

4. $250 for cucumbers (500 lbs x $.50 = $250);

$756 for halibut (28 x 12 x $2.25 = $756)

$1,500 for prawns (250 x $6)

5. Prawns

Decision 4 Answers

1. On the southern side of the islands or coast.

2. On the northern side of the islands.

3. Stay home and take care of chores (or go hiking).

4. 100 pounds (he only has 1/2 hour of bottom time)

5. Bill may do option a. or option b. and still earn a living this day, although the diving will be difficult. If Bill follows option c, he loses the cost of the trip and doesn't earn any money. If he does this often, he will soon be out of business.

6. Islands

(Island urchins = $335 profit (500 * $.85 - $90)

(Coastal urchins = $275 profit (300 lbs * $1 - $25)

Discussion: 7. Is a hard day's work and a dangerous channel crossing worth the additional $60 profit?

Decision 5 Answers

1. 616 gallons

Steaming = 24 hrs x 2 = 6.5 gals/hr = 312 gals

Surveying = 6 hrs/day x 8 days x 5 gals/hr = 240 gals

Idling = 4 hrs/day x 8 days x 2 gals/hr = 64 gals

(312 + 240 + 64 = 616)

2. a. $225,000 ($150,000 * 150% {1.5} = $225,000)

b. $33,750 ($225,000 * 15% {.15} = $33,750)

c. Yes, Joe should hire Felix.

Joe would earn an average of $150,000 without a spotter pilot but

would net $191,250 with a pilot, after paying the spotter 15% of the total

value of the catch, because the spotter will help him increase his total earnings by 50%.

3. Joe should return to the west, a spot that has proven to be productive under the current weather conditions. He should watch for signs that conditions are improving in the south, however, and be ready to go there as quickly as possible if conditions improve.

4. a. This is not a good alternative because the weather is changeable this time of year and a few good days might open up. With only one month of season left, a fisherman needs to maintain a "make hay while the sun shines" attitude.

b. This alternative is too risky. A sudden storm could break the trip or put Joe in a dangerous position at sea.

c. This is the best alternative, a compromise that gives Joe a chance to make some money during season, while the price is high, and to be home with his family for Christmas.

Decision 6 Answers

1. a. 900 pounds (600 traps per week * 1.5 lobsters/trap = 900 pounds)

b. 100 pounds (1,000 pounds/week - 900 pounds/week = 100 pounds)

2. a. $7,000 (800 pounds * $8.75/lb = $7,000)

b. $7,560 (800 pounds * $10.50/lb - 10% = $7,560)

c. [1] $500 ($7,000 - [900 * $7] = $700)

[2] $1,260 ($7,560 - [900 * $7] = $1,260)

3. a. $9,975 (1,000 pounds * $10.50/lb - 5% = $9,975)

b. 1,700 pounds/wk (900 lbs * 3 trappers - 1,000 = 1,700)

c. $16,957.50 (1,700 pounds * $10.50/lb - 5% = $16,957.50)

4. a. $1.05 per pound ($8,400 * 10% = $840 / 800 pounds = $1.05)

b. $.53 per pound ($10,500 * 5% = $525 / 1,000 pounds = $.525 or $.53)

c. $.53 per pound ($17,850 * 5% = $892.50 / 1,700 pounds = $.525 or $.53)

Discussion: 1. What business expenses would Rick incur to fish lobsters?

(Possible answers: fuel, bait, crew expense, boat maintenance and insurance)

2. What business expenses would Rick incur to sell lobster?

(Possible answers: warehouse space, lobster storage/cooling tanks, workers, packaging materials, truck or other transportation, insurance)

3. The wholesale price of seafood is set based on the ex-vessel price (the price paid to the boat), multiplied by 20-30% mark-up for the processor/first handler. The wholesale price may increase an additional 10% to 15% if the seafood is also handled by a distributor. The retailer marks up the wholesale price another 40%.

Thus when Rick fishes for lobster and sells his catch to a processor, he receives $7 a pound. If he sells his own lobster, he can earn about 25% more, and if he exports his product directly, he can earn as much as 50% more.

4. If the ex-vessel price of lobster is $7, and the wholesale price of lobster to the local market is $8.75 per pound (marked up 25%), what is the retail price per pound of that lobster? (Answer: $12.25 per pound)

California Seafood Council, PO Box 91540,		Santa Barbara, CA 93190 +1-805-569-8050