Farmers and Fishers

Video Demonstration:

Download Farmers and Fishers Guide

Virtual Lesson Instructions and Slides


  • Incentives
  • Property rights
  • Voluntary Exchange

Content Standards:

Standard 4:  People respond predictably to positive and negative incentives.

Standard 5:  Voluntary exchange occurs only when all participating parties expect to gain.

Standard 10:   Institutions evolve in market economies to help individuals and groups accomplish their goals. . . . [One] kind of institution, clearly defined and well-enforced property rights, is essential to a market economy.


½ class period


(See download link, above, to access handouts, visuals, and teacher guide.)

  • Overhead transparencies:
    • Scenario
    • Overview of United States Water Law
    • Property Rights Rules
    • A Better Solution . . .
  • Role cards – one per student
    • Copy farmer and fisher roles on different colored paper


1. Read the scenario aloud to students.  Explain that they must solve the dispute over water in the valley.

2. Divide students into groups of 4-6.  Distribute role cards to each group so that half of the students are fishers and half farmers.  Tell students it is up to them whether they share their “personal” information with the others in their group.

3. Place a prize (candy, etc.) in the middle of the table for each group.  Challenge students to solve the water problem and tell them that they can keep the prize only if you cannot improve on their solution.

4. Display the overhead describing the criteria for a “better” solution.

5. Display the overhead with the rules governing property rights for this situation:

  • Prior appropriation
  • Beneficial use = irrigation, recreation (including fishing), conservation
  • No salvaged water rule is in effect
  • No use-it-or-lose-it rule is in effect.

6. Give student groups time (5-10 minutes) to work on the problem.

7. Call time and direct groups to jot down their solution on a piece of paper (for verification purposes, if necessary).

8. Allow each group to report their solution.

9. Use the decision-tree transparencies to illustrate the problem and the range of solutions that you cannot improve upon. (Students may keep the prize if their solution was to have the fishers pay the farmers any amount from $25,000 to $80,000 for the water.)

10. Emphasize to students the role of property rights, the “rules of the game,” in allowing them to come to a “willing buyer – willing seller” agreement.

*This activity is excerpted from the FTE curriculum unit Economics of Water and the Environment:  Are We All Wet? “Lesson 4:  Farmers and Fishermen.”

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