Carrots and sticks: How incentives are conserving the hilsa fishery in Myanmar

For Myanmar’s small-scale coastal and inland fishing communities, the hilsa fish, known locally as nga tha lauk , is a vital resource. Fishing hilsa employs over 1.5 million people in the country’s most impoverished areas and provides a crucial source of food for many more.

Hilsa can live for up to five years and will spawn three times in that period. Due to overfishing and habitat destruction, however, hilsa rarely survive beyond three years, and juveniles are often caught on their return to the sea after around five months in freshwater nursing grounds.

As a result, stocks are declining and the size of landed fish is diminishing. In the early 1990s, fish weighing 1.5 kg could be caught. Today, 80 percent of the catch is less than 0.4 kg.

The decline in stocks is dramatic: in 2011–2012, the hilsa fishery generated an estimated USD 45 million. By 2015, this figure had dropped to USD 15 million.

The small-scale fishing communities of the Ayeyarwady Delta are particularly vulnerable to income shocks. Poverty levels among fisher households in the delta are as high as 70 per cent. Shrinking fish catches threaten people’s livelihoods and limit access to an important source of animal protein in a country that suffers from significant levels of malnutrition .

Ensuring long-term sustainability

Through FISH, WorldFish is working with Yangon University, the Network Activities Group, the Myanmar Department of Fisheries and hilsa fishing communities to develop a cost-effective, scientifically researched and participatory incentive-based fisheries management mechanism that will ensure the long-term sustainability of the hilsa fishing sector.

The four-year project (2017–2021), titled Darwin-HilsaMM , is funded by the…