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Paul M. Thompson
International Centre for Living Aquatic Resources Management
House 20 Road 9A, Dhanmondi, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Md. Mokammel Hossain
Department of Fisheries, Matshya Bhaban, Dhaka, Bangladesh


Inland capture fisheries of Bangladesh are complex ecologically, institutionally and socially. This paper looks at social and distributional issues in open water fisheries management by covering differentiation among various open water types, access through property rights via leasing and licensing, fishers and gear ownership and fish consumption and subsistence fishing. It considers fishery enhancements in the context of restoration of fisheries and habitats and stock enhancements and it evaluates the relative merits of enhancements. It is concluded that the social and distributional aspects of fishery management and enhancement are clearly critical to the most cost-effective means of sustainably meeting demands of the growing population for fish.


The inland or capture fisheries of Bangladesh are complex ecologically, institutionally and socially. Multi-species and multi-gear fisheries are spread through a range of water body types interlinked into a wider floodplain system. Government has tried several ways of administering these fisheries, and a wide range of interest groups use or gain benefits from these fisheries. In addition various enhancement and management approaches are being tried. Here we consider an enhancement to be any measure aimed at increasing the returns from a fishery over the level which would otherwise have been achieved. Thus measures to mitigate declining trends in catches are included. Enhancement measures could be organisational, regulatory, habitat restoration, migration restoration, or stock enhancement.

The social and distributional aspects of a fishery are tied up in what has been termed its “social ecology” (McGregor, 1995). Fishers catch fish, but the distribution of benefits from this resource exploitation depends on the interaction of community, government and market. This paper discusses some key social and distributional issues in Bangladesh inland open water fisheries; reviews published information on the distributional impacts of enhancement projects; and summarises how the Community Based Fishery Management (CBFM) project in Bangladesh is addressing these issues.

The social and distributional problems which underlie the need for CBFM are: lack of co-operation among fishers to conserve fish stocks, conflicts among fishers and between fishers and other stakeholders, an unfair distribution of benefits from fisheries, and lack of fisher representation in fisheries decisions. The move towards greater community participation in


Inland “open water fisheries” in Bangladesh include semi-closed oxbow lakes (baors) and beels where culture-based enhancement of fish stocks is feasible (for example where there are few connections to outside and screens can be used on these to block the escape of stocked fingerlings), and open waters where culture-based systems are not feasible. These open waters can be sub-divided into floodplain beels (which show great seasonal variation in the extent of water, and where stocking with carps has been introduced), and rivers (which although part of the same greater system have a permanent flow, and where stocking has not normally been attempted).

There are many interest groups who have a stake in these fisheries and stand to gain or lose from interventions: the fishers, traders, consumers, middlemen and lessees, government, and other development organisations. Fishers tend to be among the poorer groups in society, but are themselves highly differentiated (Toufique, 1997), according to their:

Poor women earn an income from drying small fish when the price is low, children and some women catch small fish in common access lands as floodplains dry up, and women make and repair nets, but women do not fish professionally in inland open waters. Non-fisher consumers of fish comprise all socio-economic classes from poor to rich. Others derive a living from fisheries, in many cases this is through a combination of power, patronage, credit and market relations. Fish traders include small scale intermediaries (fariars), who may sell in local markets or onward to assemblers, and assemblers (aratdars) who sell to wholesale markets. Some larger traders provide credit against advance or tied purchase of catches, and/or may own more expensive gear which is operated on a share basis by fishers. Such moneylenders may or may not also combine these roles with taking the lease of water bodies. Government collects revenue from fisheries as a tax or rent on the resource.

Administrative arrangements for fisheries management in Bangladesh from 1950 up to 1986 comprised only leasing of water bodies or jalmohals. Most were leased to the highest bidder purely as a source of revenue. Leaseholders collect taxes from fishers to cover the government lease cost, to cover their enforcement costs (collection costs), and to make a profit, the lease confers a fixed term property right over a fishery. From the mid-1960s in an attempt to reduce exploitation of fishers, a preference was shown for leasing to fishers co-operative societies, but in many cases these could not raise the funds needed to pay for a lease, nor could they enforce their rights over a water body, so the same class of powerful individuals maintained control over leased water bodies. In 1986 under the New Fisheries Management Policy licensing was introduced through the planned hand over of 300 water bodies to the Department of Fisheries (DoF). Enforcement and revenue collection were thereby handed over to DoF which issued gear and water body specific licenses to “genuine fishers” thereby reserving the rights of these fishers in the hope of reducing the share of benefits going to middlemen and of reducing fishing pressure (Capistrano et al., 1994).

Finally in September 1995 the Ministry of Land issued a notice (Ministry of Land, 1995) abolishing leasing, without consultation with DoF. This was effectively interpreted to mean that flowing rivers and some sites previously under NFMP became free access with neither revenue requirements nor restrictions on fishing there. All of these systems persist in 1997: free access, leasing to powerful individuals, leasing to fishers co-operatives, and water bodies administered by DoF which issues licenses to fishers.

In the following sections we argue that the existing distribution of benefits from open water fisheries reflects the local power structure, the property rights over that fishery, and the pattern of ownership of the means of production. These same factors are, therefore, the main determinants of who is likely to benefit with a change in management system including enhancement (static distributional impact). Interventions may also induce responses by some stakeholders resulting in a change in effective property rights over the fishery or new investment in gear, and hence have a dynamic distributional impact.


Who are lessees? Although some fisheries are controlled by fishers' co-operatives, in most cases poor fishers do not control leases. Toufique (1997) notes that lessees are typically the rural elite “past or present members of union parishad”, people powerful enough to enforce their rights over a fishery. He describes how co-operatives are formed to obtain a leased water body by richer more educated fishers who are skilled at obtaining the lease and effectively act as brokers for the financier and real lessee and either pass on the rights informally, or may sublease some of the water bodies they obtain rights over to lessees.

Moreover, the power structure was not necessarily changed by moves to favour fishers through licensing, since the constraint of lack of access to formal credit for poor fishers was ignored and no alternative to the service provided by moneylenders was offered (Capistrano et al., 1994). For example, at Ubdakhali river (Netrakona district) a site under the CBFM project, a fishers' society leased the jalmohal, but was funded by moneylenders related to the union parishad chairman (Islam and Thompson, 1997). The moneylenders paid the lease fees and for building brush piles, and provided loans for gear. They tied these services with sale of catches through their family (at high interest rates). They also rotated access to the fishery between their client fishers so it was not over exploited, and ensured fish could be sold. This control and exploitation was unchanged by licensing, the moneylenders simply paid for the fisher's licenses.

Under a leasing system the main division of returns from the fishery is between government, leaseholder, and fishers. The government has either accepted the highest bid for leased water bodies, or stipulated a fixed annual percentage increase in revenue. These appear to have amounted to the same in some areas. Thus under the NFMP licensing system the total license revenue from a given water body was required to increase by 10% a year. Similarly Toufique (1997) reported an average annual increase in auction value during 1986–92 of 10% for 44 open water bodies in Sirajganj District. This was similar to the rate of inflation during the same period, yet for water bodies where access rights were directed at fishers there has been no attempt to explicitly link government revenue increases to inflation. There appear to have been no general studies to determine the proportion of surplus value or rent (compared with all costs of producing fish for market) accruing to government. However, in Oxbow Lakes Project II (OLP-II) in enhanced baor fisheries managed by poor fishers, government revenue averaged only 6% of net fisheries income in 1994–95 (PIU/BRAC/DTA, 1996).

Perhaps a greater distributional problem due to leasing through auction (and fixed rates of increase in revenue are based on initial auction value) is wide variation in the government lease cost per ha for water bodies of similar type. There are problems for some water bodies in defining the area since there is a wide variation between dry and wet season area, but taking the “official” recorded area gave a range of Tk 8 to 1032 per ha for eight flowing rivers under CBFM project in 1995, the last year of revenue collection (mean Tk 232 per ha per year), and a range of Tk 19 to 1067 per ha for four beels. In one OLPII baor government revenue even amounted to about half of the net income. Government revenue collection from open water fisheries therefore lacks any effective aim of improving access for fishers or the poor, does not effectively favour sustainable production, and appears inequitable between different water bodies and their fishing communities.

Access, and the costs of access, to property rights over fisheries are unequal. Toufique (1997) compared 28 water bodies held by fishers' co-operatives with 23 held effectively by lessees (non-fishers) and found that the actual auction lease value was lower for the fishers - lessees control the richer waters - and that auction cost was 70% of the total costs of obtaining a lease incurred by lessees whereas it was only 47% of the total cost incurred by fishers controlling leases. The other costs were reported to comprise various bribes and transaction costs. Moreover, the same study argued that fishers face higher costs in managing better fisheries if they lease/control them since their costs for enforcing their property rights are higher. The lessees are able to ensure through their power status that poaching does not happen, whereas fishers tend to control less productive fisheries where guarding and poaching are not such problems. This suggests that if production increases noticeably then property rights may be taken up by lessees and the benefits will accrue more to the powerful than to fishers.

The CBFM project is attempting to reverse this situation by devising and testing models for enabling stronger organisations of fishers which, by representing all the different interests in a fishery, are better able to ensure compliance with community agreed fishing access rules. In this it is in marked contrast with the most recent and largest experiment in fisheries management in Bangladesh - free access to rivers. Already the evidence from rivers where the CBFM project is trying to work is that this has resulted in new conflicts over access to fisheries where powerful local interest groups such as Freedom Fighters Associations, local landowners and ex-leaseholders try to lay claim to part or all of the fisheries in an access regime which even the Minister for Fisheries and Livestock has termed “might is right” in a seminar in September 1996.


Several forms of differentiation among fishers have already been noted, and these differences are usually reflected in the types of gear used, which determine differences in catches. Full-time and traditional fishers tend, on average, to use gear of a higher value and efficiency and which require greater skill in operation. Table 1 shows gear use in four beels and four rivers under the CBFM project. NGO households mainly fish for an income (full- or part-time), while non-NGO households comprise mainly subsistence fishers (who fish for own consumption) especially in the beel areas. However, the use levels for subsistence type gears such as push and cast nets are lower than were reported for households in four different floodplain sites (FAP 16, 1995) where mainly subsistence fishers were surveyed.

Table 1. Percentage of households using main gears (from eight CBFM sites).

HH type
BeelRiverFAP 16
No. Households230240217240240
Larger boat255115na
Gill net3010122046
Seine net47860314
Set bag net109515
Lift net455423
Cast net6132222076
Push net324592074

Use of gear does not equate with ownership, those using higher value “professional” gears are more likely to only own a share of the gear or not to own it at all (Table 2), in which case the fishers work effectively as labourers earning a share of the catch. The gear owners can be moneylenders or richer members of the fishing team. Evidence from CBFM surveys indicates that fishers' income is quite strongly correlated with the value of gear owned when shares of gear are taken into account. Moreover McGregor (1995) reported that the return to labour for the top quartile of fishers was over twice that of the lowest quartile. Should catches increase then the income of richer and poorer fishers using the same gear rise in proportion. However, subsistence fishers often use gear such as traps and push nets which target small fishes and so the relative share of professional fishers and the richer owners of their gear are more likely to benefit if projects enhance carp stocks, for example.

Moreover, fish aggregating devices (FADs) are commonly used in open waters, these comprise brush piles (kathas) and floodplain ditches (kuas). In most cases these are owned and invested in by richer non-fishers (landowners) who then contract fishers to harvest them. The CBFM project is presently monitoring catches to determine the share going to these devices, but Rahman et al.. (1996) found in one floodplain beel area in two years that 31% and 44% of the total catch was harvested from kuas. In some rivers under the CBFM project it is likely that a substantial part of the catch, particularly during the dry season is harvested from kathas. If it is assumed that these fish would have been caught in any case, then part of the resource rent is captured by those with funds and power to construct FADs instead of by those owning and operating nets. Moreover harvesting of kathas is a skilled operation and richer fishers tend to own the necessary gear. Additionally use of these devices appears to be increasing, for example in CBFM sites numbers of kathas are reported to have increased since the rivers became free access. And harvesting is more intensive - fully harvested every year where previously they acted as sanctuaries and were not totally harvested or not harvested every year.

Table 2. Gear access arrangement of households using these gears in seven CBFM sites.

Gear% sole owner% have a share% owned by others
Large boat33958
Seine net314920
Set bag net45523
Gill net8965
Lift net751510
Cast net9514
Push net9514

Table 3 compares two similar beels under the CBFM project where fishers averaged similar incomes and dependence on fishing. In Hamil Beel there is a relatively homogeneous group of fishers who all belong to groups organised by Caritas (the partner NGO at both these beels). They have shares in group owned gear, but also fish for themselves in other water bodies for part of the year. In Rajdhola Beel the NGO member fishers show greater differences by religion, dependence on fishing, and greater inequality in assets owned. This is linked with greater inequality in their income from fishing. These differences are widening during 1996/97 since a more equitable system for harvesting of group managed and funded stocking was developed in Hamil Beel where returns increased, while conflicts with the leaseholder at Rajdhola mean that some local fishers refused to fish.


Sustainability of fisheries is one of the key aims of projects and interventions, but why are they to be sustainable? As McGregor (1995) argued the purpose is for sustaining people. The importance of fish in diet is well known (about 80% of animal protein), as is the approximate halving of overall per capita fish consumption since 1961. Much of the fish consumed is self caught as a majority of rural households fish at some time in the year. Thus in the 16 CBFM sites out of the communities involved an estimated 87% of all households fish.. Similarly FAP 16 (1995) found 85% of households surveyed fished at some time (and of these 63% fished for own consumption and 22% fished full or part-time for income). The share of total catch going to these two groups is not clear yet, and the CBFM project is monitoring this. Average fish consumption found by FAP 16 (1995) in four floodplains was 52 kg per household per year or 24 g per day. These households caught on average 60% of the amount they consumed, but sold 29% of the total amount caught.

Table 3. Comparison of inequality in fishing among NGO (Caritas) members at two CBFM beels.

AttributeHamil BeelRajdhola Beel
NGO hh15395
Other hh959545
% all hh fish74%81%
NGO hhMuslim part timeHindu traditional & Muslim part time
AccessNGO groups manage, previous fishers coopLeaseholder still controls
Gear value Aug 1996 Tk/hh1,1903,129
Gear value range25% own 4%32% own 3%
15% own 37%15% own 50%
Fishing income 1995–96 (Tk/hh)
Std. dev5,3868,398
range25% earn 9%38% earn 5%
18% earn 37%12% earn 38%
as % total income43%38% (47% for full time fishers)
Fishing income 1996/97about Tk 5000 per hh all participants + income fishing elsewhere40% share of catch, but some refused to fish for leaseholder

Notes: hh = household; Tk 43 = US$ 1

While full-time fishers must pay for access to leased fisheries, and the lessees also control the construction of brush piles to attract fish and numbers of certain gears operated, some subsistence fishing (for food) was/is allowed. Thus FAP 16 (1995) found that 26% of subsistence fishing effort was in leased waters for which no payment was made, and much of the rest was on private land. However, common access to open fisheries to catch fish for own consumption has been declining in recent decades. Ahmed (1997) points to this being a critical problem for the rural poor who have been displaced as wetlands are lost to drainage and agricultural intensification and taken into private cultivation.

It is often argued that growing large fish (carp) feeds mainly richer people as they are outside the reach of the rural poor who catch (small) fish for consumption, and cannot afford fish which are more expensive per kg and which cannot be bought in small quantities (weights). Households where fishing is a main source of income on average tend to consume more fish than subsistence fishers since they often keep a part of the catch. Thus in four CBFM beels 41% of NGO participants (mainly fishing for an income) report eating fish at least once a week compared with 31% of non-NGO participants, while in four rivers 68% of NGO participant households eat fish at least once a week compared with 53% of non-NGO participants. Hence improving the fish consumption of households who fish for a living is less important than improving the fish consumption of poor subsistence and non-fishing households.

Purchase in local markets is thus a major source of fish for the rural poor as well as richer households. Ahmad (1997) reported profits of traders in three beels to be in the range of 11–30% of retail prices, but the distribution of benefits among different types of traders is not known. However, in those culture-based fisheries which are well defined and managed by specific groups which auction on site their catches, it would appear that part of the profits which would have gone to traders are captured by the organised fisher groups.


Projects bring direct benefits to people supplying inputs, and have target beneficiaries among the fishing communities. Projects may explicitly seek to alter the distribution of benefits. In addition the power structure and pattern of exploitation may change in response to an intervention (dynamic distributional impact). This section discusses some of the evidence on these issues from recent fishery enhancement projects in Bangladesh.

6.1 Restoration of fisheries and habitats

The main examples of fishery restoration interventions so far in Bangladesh have been: fish sanctuaries, re-excavation of beels and khals to connect beels with rivers to restore inflow of fry during the monsoon (Rahman et al., 1996), and a fish pass (Bernacsek and Islam, 1997). An indirect measure which is an important component of the CBFM project, and of previous NGO work with fishing communities in Bangladesh, is to enhance fisher incomes through other income generating activities so that their incomes are enhanced in the lean season, especially if there is a closed season to permit stocked fish to grow, and to reduce pressure on fisheries. These targeted micro-credit programmes do appear to increase the incomes of poor people, including both professional and subsistence fishers, but do not supply their food requirements.

Government sponsored fish sanctuaries appear not to have been formally evaluated, but comments from fishers in CBFM sites where there have been such sanctuaries indicate that there is considerable room for improvement. It is reported that sanctuaries were not established with fisher participation, guards were employed by DoF to protect them without community participation, the best sites were not chosen according to the fishers, and sanctuaries provided an opportunity for patronage over these areas to direct benefits to some fishers. While there is support among fishers for protecting fish stocks, few (about 15%) of fishers in CBFM sites are in favour of restrictions on where they can fish.

With the exception of fish passes, the physical works involved in habitat and migration restoration are simple, mostly earthworks which create manual work for the poorest people and can be undertaken using food-for-work. Costs are relatively low and usually not annual (unlike purchase of fingerlings), so direct investment mainly benefits the poor (except that a reported 20–35% of food aid resources are lost to “leakages”; World Bank, 1991). Greater community participation and representation in organising implementation can help to limit this. An unknown factor is the amount of maintenance work needed and whether local communities will mobilise their own resources for this. Maintenance has been a recurrent problem in water management projects (embankments and structures) in Bangladesh and may affect long-term sustainability.

A related distributional conflict is over water management. Sluices and regulators are operated to benefit agriculture and thus are often closed when fish and fry could enter into flood control project areas. Mechanisms to resolve conflicts between farming and fisheries are generally lacking, and the relative benefits and costs to farming and fish of opening or closing sluices is not considered.

Rahman et al. (1996) give results of community based habitat restoration in a beel in Tangail area, comparing catches and fish consumption in the years before and year after restoration of a link canal between beel and river. Before physical work began general agreement was reached among fishers and farmers in the area that re-excavation would be beneficial to all. Catch from the beel and floodplain increased by about six times (part of this increase was due to greater flood extent in the second year), while in the floodplain the catch from fish aggregating devices (ditches or pagars) increased by 3.6 times. Table 4 shows that while subsistence fishers in aggregate gained since they caught almost twice as much, and the landless households thereby reduced their dependence on purchased fish to below 50% of total consumption, the landless did not eat more fish. The maximum gains from increased production went to full-time fishers who moved into the beel and whose catches were marketed, and to small farmers who recorded a substantial increase in fish consumption, which they caught for themselves.

Table 4. Changes in distribution of fish catch and consumption in Singharagi wetland with habitat restoration.

 Pre-interventionPost-interventionIncrease factor
Catch distribution
Pagar1 tn1.455.183.6
Beel/floodplain tn1.8611.386.1
full-time fisher %43043.3
part-time fisher %47566.2
subsistence fisher %49141.8
Fish consumption (g/person/day)
small farm27451.7
med-large farm41491.2
Percentage of consumed fish which were caught by hh
small farm22512.3
med-large farm40411.0

1 Mostly goes to owner of pagar (medium and large farmers), share to professional fishers and poor from gleaning.

Source: Rahman et al. (1996)

Benefits are distributed according to the existing differences in catches by gear, fisher type, property rights and market relations; unless additional changes take place. Thus there is so far no evidence of leaseholders attempting to capture a greater share of returns from these fisheries, but professional fishers gained more. Subsistence fishers tend to catch more small fish and their access to this floodplain has not declined, moreover the mix of fish caught fits into existing marketing arrangements.

Finally given the concern over certain types of gear/fishing effort, particularly use of kathas and gill nets, a management option is to ban these gears. McGregor (1995) estimated for Hail Haor that a katha ban would only slightly increase overall catches, but would benefit poorest households most while reducing the income of the richest fishers. The impact of a gill net ban was estimated to be exactly the reverse.

6.2 Stock enhancement

Enhanced fisheries may be more likely to be taken on lease by the rich, according to the pattern of control of richer fisheries by lessees already discussed. This seems most likely in two cases: in open waters where fingerlings are provided by national projects and are seen as almost a free good, and in culture-based systems where high profits are demonstrated. For example, in Oxbow Lakes Project II (OLP-II) baors there is concern among the organised fishers managing these baors that at the end of the project richer people (who controlled the previous fishing co-operatives) will once again take control of access (Khan, 1997).

OLP-II combined culture-based enhancement of semi-closed waters with establishing common property rights over these lakes for groups of poor fishers and landless people (Nathan and Apu, 1995). Participation was specifically targeted at rural poor households with a fixed definition related to fishing, incomes and landholding. The details of this project and its impacts are covered elsewhere (Apu and Middendorp, 1997). Here some distributional aspects of the impact are discussed. BRAC (1995) found that 26% of the community households around the baors had previously fished in their respective baor. Of these 16% were displaced by the project, and of those displaced only 30% would have definitely fallen outside the project participation criteria, while 44% of those displaced were deriving some livelihood from their fishing. Moreover among project participants 17% do not qualify according to the criteria of participation. Hence for various reasons there was some inequity in the extent of participation and benefits from the project.

The same study also found that participants' fish consumption increased by 38% over two years compared with a 14% increase among non-fishing NGO group members in the same areas (but the project participants already ate twice as much fish as the control group in the initial year). Inequality in fish consumption among participants declined over the same two year period. The reduction in inequality was particularly marked for carp consumption, which increased from 9% to 30% of fish consumption among participant households. Despite a management system designed to ensure equity both in management responsibility and in incomes from these fisheries there are substantial differences in incomes. Khan (1997) found in one baor that in 1995–96 46% of participants reported incomes from fishing in their baor of Tk 4800–5000, while 54% reported incomes of Tk 6000–9000.

In open water systems stock enhancement has been organised by the DoF through the Third Fisheries Project, which releases fingerlings into these floodplain and beel systems (Ali, 1997). Nabi (1997) reported on the opinions of fishers regarding the distribution of benefits from this stocking programme. The fishers believed that owners of kuas (ditches) and owners of larger gear (seine nets and lift nets) gained most, although catch monitoring apparently did not confirm this. Few professional fishers reported any increase in their fish consumption, but 40–70% of poor and less poor households fishing mainly for consumption reported an increase in their fish consumption, indicating a widespread gain from the project for some of the poorest people (Table 5). However, significant numbers (21–38%) of professional fishers reported losing due to the project because landowners prevented them from fishing or because they could not fish during the fingerling conservation period. Moreover, project-control comparisons failed to indicate any clear difference in incomes of professional fishers.

Table 5. Reported consequences of stocking beels by Third Fisheries Project (percentage of households reporting each impact type).

Fisher typeIncome gainConsumption gainLoss
Stocked Normal beel
Casual marginal424810
Casual non-marginal15616
Stocked waterlogged beels
Prof Trad.45238
Prof non-Trad.83613
Casual marginal48400
Casual non-marginal39708

Source: Nabi (1997)

The distributional impacts are further complicated by who pays for interventions, and by marketing of fingerlings and fish. Stocking programmes have helped encourage a thriving private hatchery sector, and while some are operated by NGO groups, most generate profits for entrepreneurs who were not poor to begin with. In OLP-II and other semi-closed culture-based systems the fishers pay the full costs of stocking and manage the operation, with credit from partner NGOs as needed. This plus experience gained over time, training, and management structures which ensure accountability of committees to the limited number of participants, all help to ensure there are checks on quality and price of fingerlings. However, open water stocking has been managed by government using contractors. Apparent substantial between year variations in the average cost of fingerlings in large scale government stocking programmes suggest that sometimes excess profits may have been made by suppliers. In these cases the lack of participation by fishing communities in stocking, which they were expected to benefit from and for which they were expected to contribute towards costs, may have resulted in a greater investment cost and relatively more benefits going to hatcheries and contractors.

In the longer term Ahmed (1997) has argued that the cost of fingerlings is declining as the private hatchery sector expands. This, and the demonstration of stocking and culture-based systems, mean that rich rural and urban entrepreneurs are likely to displace the rural poor and fishers and take over leases for culture-based fish production where they can control the stocked fish and fishing activity. If this happens then the poor will at best get some wage employment. Communities will need strong rights over fisheries if they are to resist pressure from powerful sections of society.

6.3 Relative merits of enhancements

Any enhancement is a benefit (assuming that existing fisheries are not displaced, and that the benefit exceeds the costs of the intervention). However, it is interesting to note that there is a price differential in favour of carp compared with small fish, which according to FAP 16 (1995) is about 14% (market and economic prices), whereas comparing six aspects of the nutritional content of small fish and two carp species indicates a 67% differential in favour of small fishes. Comparing two enhancement projects with the same costs, one which is based on stocking of major carp and one which restores or enhances native small fish stocks, this implies the following. The small fish targeted project has to produce 14% more fish than the other project to attain the same economic rate of return, but the carp oriented project has to produce 67% more fish to attain the same nutritional return. Small fishes on average are more accessible to the rural poor who can catch them directly, for their own consumption or to sell to other poor people.

Table 6. Comparison of distributional aspects of some Bangladesh enhancement experience.

EnhancementHabitat restoreStock open floodplainStock semi-closed
Accesslease & free accesslicense whoever wantslicense limited target people
Community participationplan, some simple rules, sanctuarycost recovery, check stockingmanage culture based system
Investment cost went today labourershatcheries & contractorshatcheries
Costs borne byone time cost mostly grantannual cost mostly from general taxesconstruction general taxes, annual costs by participant groups
Specific targeting of benefitsnonenonelocal poor formed into groups by NGO
Subjective assessment of impact on different stakeholders1
Prof. fishers2+++-
Poor fishers++++
Consumer fishers++?-
Gear/FAD owners++++-
Protein for poor++++

1 categories are:- loss, ? uncertain, + gain, ++ large gain.
2 Prof. fishers = traditional full time fishers owning gear; Poor fishers = part time fishers or own less gear.
Basis for assessments: Habitat restore = activities of Centre for Natural Resource Studies (Rahman et al., 1996);
Stock open floodplain = Third Fisheries
Project (Ali, 1997; Nabi, 1997); Stock semi-closed = Oxbow Lakes II Project (Apu and Middendorp, 1997; BRAC 1995).

The distribution of income and fish consumption, and access rights over fisheries are therefore critical factors to consider in enhancement decisions. Table 6 summarises in qualitative terms the apparent impacts of three main types of enhancement reviewed in Bangladesh. As discussed earlier, stocking of semi-closed in the examples considered has specifically targeted poor households (though stocking by leaseholders has quite different distributional impacts), whereas the other enhancements benefit those who can catch more fish as a result of existing access rights and any scope for immigration or investment in gear and rights.


The underlying premise of the CBFM project is that more sustainable and equitable fishery management is likely where organised communities first establish rights over fisheries and can then agree on enhancements and management rules which meet their needs and are feasible and meaningful to them. The project is testing models for developing CBFM in a range of water body types, working in partnership between DoF and three major NGOs (BRAC, Caritas, Proshika) and three smaller NGOs. Figure 1 shows the locations where the project started working at the beginning of 1996 (BRAC is expected to start in up to 12 additional sites in 1997). Table 7 summarises the number of participants as of the baseline survey in August-November 1996.

The overall model adopted is one of co-management with the partner NGOs acting as facilitators to organise fisher groups and enhance their livelihoods. The aim is for communities to reconcile different interests in the water body through locally appropriate organisations or forums for fishery decisions. The format of this is likely to differ between types of water bodies and specific communities. Figure 2 shows one general arrangement, but the aim is to find out what local organisational and institutional arrangements are appropriate in specific cases, and to learn what general processes can be followed to achieve this aim.

Table 7. Coverage of CBFM project sites by partner NGOs.

Water body typeBeelsRiversTotal
 Other NGOs123
Total households4,88513,41618,301
NGO households7472,3093,056
% all hh ever fish85%87%87%
% fishing hh in NGO groups18%20%19%

It is too early to reach conclusions regarding the impact of this approach. A summary of experience in one successfully stocked semi-closed beel (Hamil Beel) is given by Alam et al. (1997). With increased involvement by Caritas in facilitating group formation and transparency and equity in management operations, not only was culture-based production increased some four times over previous levels, but this was equitably distributed among all participants by a beel management committee formed by the participants. Funds for stocking and new gear were raised by the participants as equal shareholders and credit from Caritas was repaid after a few months at harvest. On the other hand, baseline surveys of the area indicate that non-participants have no involvement in the fishery and are excluded from it, and that participants fish in other nearby beels during the closed season in their beel. Distributional issues have also been addressed in riverine areas by Proshika which has provided credit for gear purchase (to reduce the share of returns going to moneylenders), for fish processing (which brings an extra income to the women of fishing households), and for other income earning activities to enhance incomes during the lean season.

Figure 1. CBFM project water body locations.

Figure 1.

Figure 2. Schematic model of organisation of CBFM project.

Figure 2.

Figure 3 shows the preferences of CBFM participants for general fishery management measures in eight sites. This shows a widespread preference for stocking, which reflects in most cases observation by respondents of more-or-less free government funded stocking programmes. However, it also shows important preferences for habitat restoration in beel areas (mainly seasonal floodplain beels) and for measures to ensure access for fishers and to conserve fish and limit over exploitation in rivers. The project expects to incorporate these preferences in assisting these communities to prepare local fishery management plans.


Considering the framework of Ostrom (1994) - Table 8 - Bangladesh evidence is that some enhancement projects have followed these design principles for community management and appear to be closer to meeting people's needs and avoiding capture of benefits by the rich.

Table 8. Sustainable community governance and management of commons.

Design principlesThreats
Clearly defined boundariesBlueprint thinking
Appropriation rules fit local conditionsOverreliance on simple voting rules
Collective choice agreementsRapid exogenous change
MonitoringTransmission failures
Graduated sanctionsExternal dependence
Conflict resolution mechanismsIgnoring indigenous knowledge and institutions
Recognition of rights to organiseCorruption and opportunistic behaviour
Nested enterprisesLack of large-scale supportive institutions

Source: Ostrom (1994)

Several of these principles and threats relate to the need for enhancements and management systems which fit local conditions and local communities. Thus there is a tendency for donors, government and NGOs to prefer large projects or programmes with a single blueprint since this makes implementation easier. This may not be a problem where water bodies and communities are similar, but the diversity of water bodies and communities discussed earlier means that it is unlikely that in all water bodies the same type of enhancement will be preferred by or most appropriate for the community. Moreover the appropriate approach to reducing social conflicts and reducing inequality in benefits from fisheries (i.e. for developing community participation) is also likely to differ between water bodies. Thus if the government and NGOs are willing to facilitate local arrangements which meet the design principles the result should be more appropriate.

It would appear that where enhancement has come before local organisation of fishers and local consultation and planning of the measures, there are greater problems over the distribution of benefits and sustainability, and greater dependence on external funding.

Figure 3. Reported fishery management needs in eight CBFM sites.

Figure 3.

Figure 3.

Leasing of fisheries has favoured richer people who can be effectively semi-feudal patron exploiters of fishers. Lessees gain access to richer fisheries as they have lower costs of enforcing property rights over fisheries than do fishers when the latter are differentiated and lack support to organise into strong bodies where members reach some common view. Variations in lease rates between water bodies, and requirements to increase lease revenue each year, are inequitable. The relatively affluent also capture more of the benefits from fisheries by investing in fish aggregating devices which exclude fishers or only give them a share, and by owning the most efficient and most expensive gears. Poorer fishers gain a share of the catch from these gears, or catch small fish mainly for food.

Habitat restoration appeared to benefit all fishers, but subsistence fishers gained by catching more of the food they ate, whereas most of the extra production was caught by full-time fishers, the investment cost benefited the poorest people.

Stocking of open floodplains was reported by fishers to have improved either incomes or fish consumption (according to their main use of fish), but substantial minorities of professional fishers said they did not benefit, investment costs mainly benefit private entrepreneurs. Stocking of semi-closed water bodies has specifically targeted poor households. Some poor fishers were excluded, and in some water bodies disputes and conflicts over leases and access rights have prevented community managed enhancement. However, in these fisheries benefits have been relatively equitably distributed despite still showing substantial variation.

A key question for Bangladesh fisheries policy is:

What is the most cost-effective means of sustainably meeting demands of the growing population for fish, such that the nutritional standard of the poorest people improves and that people who depend on fishing for a living get a fair income?

The answer lies beyond this paper, but the social and distributional aspects of fishery management and enhancement are clearly critical to it. The evidence of existing project experience is that fishery enhancement and management is more likely to be equitable, in the sense of being seen and agreed to be fair, where it is developed within a common property resource system where communities manage the enhancement. These community management organisations and institutions will hopefully be sustainable, whereas it is uncertain whether richer households will invest over time in taking a greater share of benefits in more open systems following enhancement. Assessment of the distribution of benefits from open water fisheries in Bangladesh has to date been partial. Models are needed both for the existing situation, and to assess the impacts of changes, whether changes are enhancements or other changes to access arrangements.

Social and distributional issues should be addressed first through a strategy which supports and enables communities to strengthen or develop their rights over water bodies and define how they would like to manage and plan for use of these fisheries. Potential enhancement is one important focus for developing community management, but it will be appropriate for communities to start with low cost enhancements which require less continual management or change to existing exploitation. If this succeeds in reaching agreements between different stakeholders and strata of fishers, then if the users identify more complex or costly enhancements as appropriate, they will be more capable of taking these up.


We are grateful to the Ford Foundation for funding the CBFM project as part of a programme to support community based fishery management development in Bangladesh. We thank especially Doris Capistrano, Nurul Islam, Monjur Kadir, Shamsul Kabir, Anwara Begum Shelley, Nazmul Alam, Prohlad Chandra Dey, and all of the field team for their contributions to the project. We also thank the authors of papers presented at the National Workshop on Policy for Sustainable Inland Fisheries Management for evidence on other projects and studies used in this paper.


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