Scientists call for international collaboration to safeguard hilsa fish stocks

Scientists, academics and officials from Bangladesh, India and Myanmar called for action at a meeting in Dhaka.

News, 06 May 2016

This video looks at efforts to encourage sustainable fisheries in Bangladesh

Scientists, academics and officials called for regional collaboration on safeguarding vital fish stocks in the Bay of Bengal at a seminar in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 4-5 May, 2016.

The two-day seminar was organised to discuss research into incentive-based fisheries management in Bangladesh, and to explore opportunities for collaboration on sustainable fisheries between Bangladesh, India and Myanmar. 

Bangladesh's Minister of Fisheries and Livestock, Md. Sayedul Haque opened the seminar, saying that the time was right to discuss collaboration and cooperation opportunities. He said: "I think this is the appropriate time to explore the transboundary collaborative research and development opportunities for sustainable hilsa fisheries management and development in the Bay of Bengal region."

He told the meeting: "I give you assurance that all possible measures will be taken by the Government of Bangladesh for collaborative cooperation among Bangladesh, India and Myanmar for sustainable development, conservation and management of hilsa fish."

The event was hosted in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries of the Government of Bangladesh. It brought together government officials, fisheries managers and scientists, donors, and members of civil society groups from the three countries. 

It was organised to review the findings of a three-year research project that looked at the impact of Bangladesh's efforts to improve the sustainability of the hilsa fishing industry. The study was undertaken by IIED, the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) and Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU). It was funded by the UK's Darwin Initiative.

Hilsa fish: a vital resource

The Hilsa fish, called 'Ilish' in Bengali, is one of Bangladesh's staple foods. An estimated three million people in Bangladesh directly or indirectly depend on Hilsa for their livelihoods.

Hilsa is also important for communities in India and Myanmar. Overfishing and loss of habitat has led to declining stocks: once plentiful and affordable even for the poor, hilsa catches reached a low point in 1991-92. 

An image of Mohammad Sayedul Haque, the Bangladesh Minister of Fisheries and Livestock alongside a table around which sit participants from Bangladesh, Myanmar and India as they discuss sustainable hilsa fishery management (Photo: Essam Yassin Mohammed/IIED)

Bangladesh has taken action to protect fish stocks, including creating fish sanctuaries and introducing seasonal fishing bans. Crucially, the government also introduced direct incentives for fishing communities to encourage their compliance with the regulations. Each fishing household receives 40kg of rice per month for a period of at least four months, and the government also provides training and materials to help families to diversify their income sources. 

The research study reviewed the impact of these measures and looked at ways to enhance the effectiveness of the payment scheme. IIED and partners have published a synthesis report summarising the findings

Financial sustainability

One of the study's recommendations was to set up a Hilsa Conservation Trust Fund to help with the costs of incentives. The director general of Bangladesh's Department of Fisheries, Dr Syed Arif Azad, told the meeting that effective implementation of the 'Hilsa Conservation Trust Fund' was key to ensure the financial sustainability of the scheme. He called on all partners to work earnestly to secure seed capital for the trust fund. 

On another development, the chairman of Rural Savings Bank of Bangladesh, Dr Mihir Majumder, said that one of the findings of the research project was that to liberate fishers from the cyclical debt trap, a suitable and affordable microfinance system needs to be introduced and tailored to meet the needs generated by a fishing ban.

He said his bank was planning to develop a special programme to extend its microcredit scheme for alternative livelihoods to affected hilsa fishers.

Notes to editors

  • The 66-page synthesis report on the joint research project is available to download from the IIED publications library:
    Balancing carrots and sticks: incentives for sustainable Hilsa fishery management in Bangladesh, Nadia Dewhurst-Richman, Essam Yassin Mohammed, Md Liaquat Ali, Kaisir Hassan, Md Abdul Wahab, Zoarder Faruque Ahmed, Md Monirul Islam, Annabelle Bladon, GC Haldar, Chowdhury Saleh Ahmed, Mihir Kanti Majumder, Md Mokammel Hossain, Atiq Rahman, Belayet Hussein (2016) IIED Report 
  • IIED is an independent, non-profit research institute. We are based in London and work on five continents with some of the world's most vulnerable people to strengthen their voice in the decision-making arenas that affect them
  • The Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) is a leading research and policy institute in the non-government sector. It is independent, non-profit and specialises in policy analysis, action research and project implementation for sustainable development at local, national, regional and global levels. 
  • Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) is Bangladesh's premier seat of higher agricultural education and research. The main task of the university is to tone up the quality and standard of higher agricultural education and to produce first-rate agriculturists, agricultural scientists and researchers for shouldering the responsibilities of agricultural development of the country.