Carrots and sticks: incentives to conserve hilsa fish in Myanmar

April 2017 to March 2021

Introducing incentive-based fisheries management in Myanmar's Ayeyarwady Delta will protect fish stocks, safeguard biodiversity and help protect the livelihoods of local fishing communities.

A fisher in a boat in the Ayeyarwady Delta, Myanmar

A fisher in the Ayeyarwady Delta, Myanmar. Hilsa stocks are increasingly threatened by overfishing and habitat destruction (Photo: Axel Drainville, via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

For Myanmar's small-scale fishing communities, the hilsa fish is a vital resource. Fishing hilsa employs 1.6 million people in the country's most impoverished areas and provides a vital food source for many more.

But hilsa stocks are increasingly threatened by overfishing and habitat destruction. The decline is stark: hilsa fishing generated an estimated US$45 million in export earnings in 2011-12; by 2015 this figure had plummeted to $15 million because of falling catches.

The small-scale fishing communities of the Ayeyarwady Delta are highly vulnerable to income shocks. Poverty levels among fisher households are as high as 70%. Shrinking fish catches threaten people's livelihoods and limit access to an important source of protein.

What is IIED doing?

IIED is working with the WorldFish Centre, Yangon University, Network Activities Group (NAG), and the Department of Fisheries of the government of Myanmar to develop a fisheries management mechanism that will ensure the long-term sustainability of Myanmar's hilsa fishing sector. The project aims to design a system that is scientifically researched, cost-effective and incentive-based.

The project, titled Darwin-HilsaMM, is being funded by the UK government's Darwin Initiative.

This initiative follows a project that helped enhance the effectiveness of an incentive-based hilsa fishery management in Bangladesh. This project aims to promote co-learning opportunities between Bangladesh and Myanmar, and create a platform for the development of a common hilsa fishery management. 

IIED's work on fisheries management in Myanmar featured in IIED's 2020 annual review

Key outputs

The project will be delivered in four phases:

  1. Understanding the biology and ecology of hilsa fishery: scientists from Yangon University and the non-profit research organisation WorldFish will study fish stocks, spawning seasons and fish habitats. The team will then identify a preferred 'no-take' season during which fishing will be restricted to allow for breeding.
  2. Understanding the socio-economics of hilsa fishing: IIED and host country partners will conduct a large-scale household  survey to map livelihood options in fisher communities affected by fishing restrictions. The project team will determine the level of incentives needed to offset the costs of abiding by new fishing regulations.
  3. Making a business case for investment in hilsa management: researchers from IIED and Myanmar partners will research the economic and business case for government and private sector investment in restoring fisheries. The findings will be communicated in a variety of ways, including at a planned national multi-stakeholder workshop on incentive-based hilsa management.
  4. Darwin Initiative logoDeveloping a sustainable financing mechanism: any long-term incentive scheme must have a consistent financing mechanism to ensure ongoing funding. The project partners will run a series multi-stakeholder workshops to explore innovative financing mechanisms that combine fiscal reforms, independent fund management and private sector investment.

    At the conclusion of this research, we will produce policy briefs, and develop a memorandum and articles of association for a fund by 2020. 
  5. Transboundary learning: hilsa fish is a resource shared by both Myanmar and Bangladesh. This project will create a platform for dialogue between the two countries, with the aim of establishing a common hilsa fishery management plan by 2020.  


Myanmar's artisanal hilsa fisheries. How much are they really worth?, Lauren Burcham, Klaus Glenk, Michael Akester, Annabelle Bladon, Essam Yassin Mohammed (2020), Working paper

The business case for investing in Myanmar’s artisanal hilsa fishery, Annabelle Bladon, Michael Akester, Lauren Burcham (2020), IIED Briefing,

Financing Myanmar’s fisheries through fiscal reform, Annabelle Bladon, Michael Akester, Essam Yassin Mohammed (2020), IIED Briefing

Financing incentive-based hilsa fisheries management in Myanmar through fiscal reform, Peter Silvester, Annabelle Bladon, Michael Akester, Khin Maung Soe, Essam Yassin Mohammed (2020), Working paper

Migratory patterns of Hilsa shad in the Myanmar Ayeyarwady delta. Lessons for fisheries management, Eugenia Merayo, Kyi Thar Myint, Thida Ei, Myint Khine, Pwint Thu Aye, Thida Lay Thwe, Kimio Leemans, Khin Maung Soe, Michael Akester, Annabelle Bladon, Essam Yassin Mohammed (2020), Working paper

Spawning seasonality of hilsa (Tenualosa ilisha) in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta, Annabelle Bladon, Kyi Thar Myint, Thida Ei, Myint Khine, Pwint Thu Aye, Thida Lay Thwe, Kimio Leemans, Khin Maung Soe, Michael Akester, Eugenia Merayo, Essam Yassin Mohammed (2019), Working paper

Regional hilsa knowledge-sharing workshop (Bangladesh-Myanmar): lessons for incentive-based hilsa management, Eugenia Merayo (2019), Event report

Socioeconomic characteristics of hilsa fishers in the Ayeyarwady Delta, Myanmar, Wae Win Khaing, Michael Akester, Eugenia Merayo Garcia, Annabelle Bladon, Essam Yassin Mohammed (2018) Country report

Additional resources

Video: Designing affordable, sustainable fisheries that protect people and nature (February 2021)

Webinar: Closing the gap: financing the transition towards an inclusive blue economy


UK Government Darwin Initiative


WorldFish Myanmar

Department of Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, Myanmar

University of Yangon (YU)   

Network Activities Group (NAG)


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