Opportunities for agent-based modelling in human dimensions of fisheries

Matthew G. Burgess, Ernesto Carrella, Michael Drexler, Robert L. Axtell, Richard M. Bailey, James R. Watson, Reniel B. Cabral, Michaela Clemence, Christopher Costello, Chris Dorsett, Steven D. Gaines, Emily S. Klein, Philipp Koralus, George Leonard, Simon A. Levin, Lorne Richard Little, John Lynham, Jens Koed Madsen, Andreas Merkl, Brandon OwashiSteven E. Saul, Ingrid E. van Putten, Sharon Wilcox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Models of human dimensions of fisheries are important to understanding and predicting how fishing industries respond to changes in marine ecosystems and management institutions. Advances in computation have made it possible to construct agent-based models (ABMs)—which explicitly describe the behaviour of individual people, firms or vessels in order to understand and predict their aggregate behaviours. ABMs are widely used for both academic and applied purposes in many settings including finance, urban planning and the military, but are not yet mainstream in fisheries science and management, despite a growing literature. ABMs are well suited to understanding emergent consequences of fisher interactions, heterogeneity and bounded rationality, especially in complex ecological, social and institutional contexts. For these reasons, we argue that ABMs of human behaviour can contribute significantly to human dimensions of fisheries in three areas: (a) understanding interactions between multiple management institutions; (b) incorporating cognitive and behavioural sciences into fisheries science and practice; and (c) understanding and projecting the social consequences of management institutions. We provide simple examples illustrating the potential for ABMs in each of these areas, using conceptual (“toy”) versions of the POSEIDON model. We argue that salient strategic advances in these areas could pave the way for increased tactical use of ABMs in fishery management settings. We review common ABM development and application challenges, with the aim of providing guidance to beginning ABM developers and users studying human dimensions of fisheries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)570-587
Number of pages18
JournalFish and Fisheries
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • complexity
  • ecosystem-based fishery management
  • governance
  • human behaviour
  • social-ecological systems
  • sustainability


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