FishBanks, a well-known fisheries management simulation game, was used to test the effect of institutional settings on the biological and economic performance of fisheries. The game was played by 48 groups of between 20 and 25 undergraduate Environmental Science students in two different time lengths (10 years versus 15 years) and institutional settings (open access versus regulated access through a resource management regime). Sessions run under an institutional regime for resource management performed better than those under open access in terms of fish population, aggregate asset value and income distribution amongst competing companies. Fleet size, a proxy for human pressure on the resource, had a more intense effect than the existence or not of an institutional setting. Results also indicate that once a critical threshold is reached in stock deterioration, institutions may be insufficient to revert change, suggesting ultimate environmental limits to the effectiveness of institutions. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.