Paying fishermen not to fish may be the means to conserve the ocean and address food security, said the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
The London-based policy research organisation recently discussed how a scheme similar to forest protection programmes involving payments for ecosystem services could boost declining fish stocks in the Bay of Bengal, where millions of people from Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar primarily source their food.
IIED’s plan builds on the system implemented by the government of Bangladesh – which compensates fishing communities that do not catch the threatened hilsa fish – by working more closely with the various stakeholders to encourage sustainable fisheries.
The research organisation published a study describing the Bangladeshi conservation initiative last November. Co-author Essam Yassin Mohammed said sustainable fisheries management is more than the number of fish in the sea. “It is about ensuring the financial sustainability of efforts to conserve wild species and about encouraging a sense of local control over both the natural resources and the systems in place to manage them,” he explained.
To improve the scheme, IIED recommended five ways that could further increase the stocks in the Bay of Bengal, and which could set a precedent for similar payments system encouraging sustainable fisheries elsewhere.
The organisation pointed out the following:
- Understand better the social and economic factors, as well as the ecological systems that underpin the hilsa fishery.
- Identify the beneficiaries of the scheme, like fish exporters, and find ways to make the scheme financially sustainable, such as channelling a portion of export taxes into a conservation trust fund.
- Identify how fisher communities would prefer to receive their compensation packages and redesign them accordingly.
- Empower local fishing communities to monitor and enforce compliance.
- Improve regional co-operation between the three countries that make up the Bay of Bengal: Bangladesh, India and Myanmar.
IIED also started an online community called FishNet to connect industry players, fishing communities and governments.
“Bangladesh’s pioneering model of payments to compensate fishing communities has much to teach other nations that face declines in their fish stocks due to overfishing and environmental change,” Mohammed said.