To better understand the need and potential for scaling up environmental income and resilience through good ecosystem stewardship, consider the plight of inland fisheries in Bangladesh.
The country’s many rivers, wetlands, and shallow lakes make it the world’s third largest producer of freshwater fish (not including aquaculture).
Even so, productivity could be much higher if the nation’s freshwater fisheries were not so degraded.
As with many of the world’s inland fisheries, pollution, development, dams, and unsustainable fishing practices have greatly diminished the annual catch.
The consequences for the poor have been grim.
Between 1995 and 2000, fish consumption among poor families in Bangladesh’s extensive floodplains dropped almost 40 percent.
Conscious of the need to try a new approach to managing the nation’s inland fisheries, the government of Bangladesh has assented to community control of local fishing waters in 110 villages in three wetland watersheds in the country’s northern region.
- Between 1999 and 2006, fish catches rose 140 percent in these villages as local fishers adopted better fishing practices and restored fish habitat to help fish stocks recover.
- Fish consumption rose 52 percent, and average daily household income rose more than 30 percent in the affected villages.
- So far, the new approach has directly benefited 184,000 Bangladeshis – most of them poor – in 110 villages.
But the successes there are directly applicable to another 340 neighboring villages in the same watersheds.
Beyond these watersheds, many more fish-dependent families could benefit if the government applies the lessons of these communities in the thousands of villages in which freshwater fish make up an important part of the local economy.
- An estimated 9.5 million Bangladeshis are involved in subsistence fishing on the nation’s floodplains, swelling to some 11 million during the monsoon season.
Looking farther afield, the number of potential beneficiaries increases even more, since freshwater fisheries are a prime source of income for poor people throughout the developing world.
- In China, more than 9 million people are involved with inland fisheries and aquaculture.
- In the Mekong River basin, where fish is a critical part of the diet, as many as 40 million people – from full-time fishers to rice farmers – depend on freshwater fish for at least a portion of their livelihood.
Lessons from Bangladesh’s success are likely quite relevant in these and other regions where the decline of fisheries still confronts the poor.