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Reimagining large-scale open-water fisheries governance through adaptive comanagement in hilsa shad sanctuaries

Martin L van Brakel, WorldFish
Md. Nahiduzzaman, WorldFish
A. B. M. Mahfuzul Haque, WorldFish
Md. Golam Mustafa, WorldFish
Md. Jalilur Rahman, WorldFish
Md. Abdul Wahab, WorldFish


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Almost a half million fishers in Bangladesh are predominantly reliant on the hilsa shad (Tenualosa ilisha) fishery in the Meghna River and estuarine ecosystem. This paper adopts a broadened concept of social-ecological traps to frame the complex dynamics that emerge from social and ecological interactions in this highly natural resource-dependent social-ecological system (SES). We analyze how endogenous self-reinforcing processes in the system and poor initial conditions, particularly debt and lack of livelihood options outside fisheries, keep fishing households in poverty. We identify a policy decision in favor of incentive-based fisheries management as a critical juncture that influenced a trajectory of recovery in hilsa shad stocks in this complex adaptive system. Normative assessment of stakeholder perceptions indicates that fishers perceive a nominal improvement in well-being as a result of this policy. Compensation in return for compliance with a seasonal fishing ban in sanctuary areas does not, however, disrupt trap dynamics perpetuating the cycle of poverty, social exclusion, and political disempowerment in which fishing households are entrenched. Poverty and lack of alternative livelihood opportunities remain significant reasons for noncompliance with the ban as long as fishers do not have any meaningful representation in resource management and decision making. A secured tenure system through adaptive comanagement involving fishers in monitoring and enforcement of compliance with fishing bans, supported by sustainable finance for livelihood improvements outside of natural resource exploitation and predicated on responsive and accountable institutions for and by people who depend on the fishery, can form the foundation for local stewardship in a unique demonstration of contemporary large-scale open-water fisheries governance in this complex SES.

Key words

Bangladesh; comanagement; debt; hilsa shad; sanctuary; social-ecological system; trap

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087