Incentive-based hilsa fisheries management

Published: 16 December 2020
Last edited: 16 December 2020
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The solution Incentive-based Hilsa Fisheries Management comprises a suite of activities directly and indirectly related to the recovery of hilsa fish stocks in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government coupled seasonal fishing bans and the creation of hilsa sanctuaries with food and income-based social support schemes; the aim was to maximise fish stock recovery, and minimise the burden placed on fishers by limiting their access to this culturally and economically important fish. Stocks of hilsa and other species were reported to have increased, and hilsa catch weight to have roughly doubled, since the management plan’s inception. Communities are supported when fishing isn’t possible, particularly through a food-based scheme. This solution is published as part of the project Ecosystem-based Adaptation; strengthening the evidence and informing policy, coordinated by IIED, IUCN and UN Environment WCMC.


South Asia
Scale of implementation
Freshwater ecosystems
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Open sea
River, stream
Coastal and marine spatial management
Fisheries and aquaculture
Food security
Species management
Sustainable financing
Loss of Biodiversity
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 14 – Life below water
Aichi targets
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 14: Ecosystem services




Hilsa fish has economic, social and cultural significance in Bangladesh. Hilsa production has been declining since the 1970s due to lack of proper management (overfishing) and climate-change related impacts, to the point where collapse of the entire stock is feared. Shifts in season, water salination, river bank erosion, increased temperatures, siltation and increased instances of extreme weather events all lead to breeding-ground and habitat degradation and changes in river morphology, reducing the chances of spawning success and influencing hilsa migration routes. Reduction in hilsa stock negatively impacts on Bangladesh’s poorest directly and indirectly, with most hilsa fishing being artisanal, and hilsa being the most affordable and preferred fish amongst the poor. Hilsa is nutritionally crucial to some 250 million Bengali people. It is also Bangladesh’s national fish, with huge cultural significance in Bengali culture. 


Hilsa-dependent fishing communities in Bangladesh; fishers of other fish and shellfish species.

How do the building blocks interact?

Nation-wide hilsa fishing bans (BBI) in Bangladesh provide time for uninterrupted spawning for this economically and culturally significant fish. To minimize the stress of the fishing bans on the poorest fishermen, who are often the most dependent on hilsa, a supporting compensation scheme (BBII) buffers the fishermen against the stress of livelihood loss, by providing either food grain or alternative income training to directly-affected fisher households.

BBIII, a proposed conservation trust fund, would support activities as detailed in BBI and BBII, helping to address some of the issues of enforcement and service provision as detailed below. 


A range of groups benefited from ecological improvements and the resultant increased income-earning opportunities from fishing – not only fishers themselves, but also those involved in money-lending, wholesaling, retail, labour, and net- and boat-making. Particular benefit accrued to women, children and the elderly who, representing some of Bangladesh’s poorest people, stand to gain from the recovery of stocks of this favourite fish. Greater income allows more children to remain in education and buffers fishers against economic crisis, allowing for easier recovery from loans. Increased fish stock availability improves nutrition. Ecologically, not only hilsa but other fish species were reported to have increased in Bangladesh and possibly in India and Myanmar (although the highest perceived increase in catch is reported amongst those living close to fish sanctuary areas). Hilsa catch weight was also reported to have roughly doubled over 10 years since the introduction of the fishery management activities.  Overall, the hilsa fishery management programme improved community resilience and adaptive capacity, reducing vulnerability to climate change and its associated challenges. 

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Xiaoting Hou Jones IIED