Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 53, Issue 4, pp 353–364

Bioeconomics of schooling fishes: selfish fish, quasi-free riders, and other fishy tales

  • Janet T. Landa

DOI: 10.1023/A:1007414603324

Cite this article as:
Landa, J.T. Environmental Biology of Fishes (1998) 53: 353. doi:10.1023/A:1007414603324


Applying the economic theory of clubs to the biological literature on schooling fish, this paper develops a 'selfish fish' club-theoretic paradigm of why fish join a fish school, and arrive at the following conclusions. A selfish fish: (a) joins the fish school because it derives hydrodynamic benefits (a club good); the selfish fish is a 'quasi-free rider'; (b) has no incentive to completely free ride on the benefits of the club good, because it will be, literally, left behind by the school; the fish school is a self-enforcing exclusive club; (c) has no incentive to shirk leadership role in the school because of the role reversibility of leaders and followers; (d) derives benefits from defense, another club good, via the many anti-predator defensive devices provided by club members; (e) has no incentive to discriminate against odd-looking outsiders, since odd-looking fish in a fish school are attacked by predators more frequently than look alikes. But outsiders display xenophobia toward insiders because outsiders do not wish to become prime targets for predators; the result is the formation of homotypic fish schools. Finally, (f) since escape is the main anti-predator defense manoeuvre, the 'any-one leader' rule for making collective choice of escape is the optimal decision-making rule for members of a fish school; this explains the leaderless, completely decentralized form of organization of fish schools. This paper thus contribute to new and deeper insights into various aspects of the bioeconomics of schooling fish.

anti-predator defense devices'any-one leader' ruleeconomic theory of clubscollective actionfree ridershomotypic fish schoolshydrodynamic benefitsselfish fishtheory of public goodspublic choice theory

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janet T. Landa
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsYork UniversityTorontoCanada