Culture-based fisheries in Bangladesh

FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 499

Culture-based fisheries in Bangladesh

A socio-economic perspective

John Valbo-Jrgensen
FAO Fisheries Management and Conservation Service
Rome, Italy


Paul M. Thompson
Flood Hazard Research Centre
Middlesex University
Enfield, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Rome, 2007

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© FAO 2007

Valbo-Jrgensen, J.; Thompson, P.M.
Culture-based fi sheries in Bangladesh: a socio-economic perspective.
FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 499. Rome, FAO. 2007. 41p.


Fisheries policy in Bangladesh is still trying to get to grips with the major (universal) dilemmas of maximizing benefi ts from natural resources while, at the same time, ensuring an acceptable degree of equity in distribution of benefi ts and protecting the ecosystems that support the resources. During the twentieth century Bangladesh adopted one-sided production-oriented policies in the agricultural sector to feed the rapidly growing population. This strategy included increasing fi sh production, which was in decline mainly as a result of environmental degradation brought about by the expansion of agriculture. The solution was aquaculture development and later the promotion of culture-based fi sheries and large scale stocking in the fl oodplains and beels (lakes) that previously sustained the capture fi sheries. Although fi sh production per se in many cases may have increased as a result of this type of intervention, benefi ts are not socially and environmentally sustainable.

Traditional leasing of waterbodies is effective but not equitable because the powerful leaseholders control the access; and because the leasing arrangements are of short duration the leaseholders will try to maximize benefi ts, often at the expense of environment and biodiversity. These strategies have consequently caused serious negative environmental impacts and have further reinforced inequalities between local elites and poorer fi shers. Although several attempts have been made to transfer fi shing rights to poor fi shers through community-based management arrangements, infl uential people tend to dominate these attempts when there are fi nancial attractions such as subsidies for stocking and the opportunity for easily controlled profits.

While stocking of fi ngerlings, gear bans and seasonal bans on all or some fi shing gears were successful technically to conserve and enhance resources it led to exclusion and suffering of poor fi shers. Culture-based fi sheries have relatively high production, but need strictly enforced closed seasons to allow fi sh to grow, an activity which excludes poor subsistence fi shers. However, in some places people who participated with the expectations of considerable personal gains ceded when more resilient lower-cost practices such as sanctuaries were adopted.

Local equity issues are partly mitigated when poor people are allowed to catch small (non-stocked species) for food. In the fl oodplains, public stocking has not been sustained as access to these larger open systems is diffi cult to control and participants are unable to capture enough benefi ts or raise funds from the wider community, while landowners tend to take advantage of the situation and catch more of the stocked fi sh. In smaller, more closed waterbodies, groups of fi shers are able to control access and can profi t, but the risks and need for capital are high.

This document reviews the development of culture-based fi sheries enhancements in Bangladesh and discusses the outcomes in the context of the social and economic impacts. The various management arrangements and the risks and benefi ts they entail for the stakeholder groups are examined as well as the roles of donors, Non governmental Organizations and the government and its agencies. Culture-based enhancements have been encouraged as a panacea solution to increase benefi ts from fi sheries, however, here it is concluded that the entry point for fi sheries management should not be stocking. Interventions such as sanctuaries and limits on fi shing effort are less risky and cause less social confl ict. Habitat rehabilitation has a higher initial capital cost but does not require recurring annual investments in stocking. However, this type of intervention is not very attractive due to the governments lease policies that discourage long-term investments in fi sheries management. A series of recommendations for organizations involved with community-based fi sheries management are provided.


Preparation of this document
Abbreviations and acronyms


The role of living aquatic resources in rural Bangladesh

Policy and administrative context

Culture-based fishery management issues

     Community-based fisheries management
Participatory planning
Involvement of NGOs
Distribution of benefits and costs
Risk management
     Access limitations

Choice of species: indigenous versus exotic
Predator removal
Habitat modifications
Implications for fish consumption and nutrition
     Alternatives to stocking

     Reaching the poor
Who benefits from stocking?
Alternative income generating activities
     Measuring impacts on livelihoods


Specific recommendations for community-based
   fisheries management