Project duration:

2016 - 2017

Sustainable Livelihoods for Hilsa-dependent Communities across India Bangladesh Riverscapes

Hilsa – an iconic fish of the Bengal delta
The Hilsa (tenualosa ilisha) is not just a fish species; it is a cultural symbol that binds Bengalis, from Bangladesh and  India together. It is an anadromous fish that spends its lifecycle in rivers, estuaries, coastal areas,  and the sea.  The Hilsa migrates towards freshwater for spawning. Commercially the Hilsa is the most important fisheries in the Bengal delta.  Bangladesh is the leading country in Hilsa production with 65% of all Hilsa, while India contributes to 10-15% and Myanmar 8%-10%. However, the Hilsa populations have declined sharply, threatening the livelihoods of more than 5 million people in both Bangladesh and India who are directly or indirectly involved in Hilsa fisheries[1]. Despite being a common regional resource the policy framework and interventions for Hilsa conservation are focussed nationally.

The crisis and management of Hilsa fishery

Hilsa has been on the decline over the last 30 years in Bangladesh and India, due to over-fishing, siltation in river beds, decrease in water flow and fragmentation of rivers in dry season[1]. The Government of Bangladesh has taken measures, including implementing a ban on Hilsa fishing and recently the conservation efforts are moving from regulatory regimes to an approach that combines regulations with economic incentives[2]. In India West Bengal (the largest consumer of the fish), has subsequently amended their respective inland and marine fisheries laws to implement a ban on Hilsa fishing during the spawning and breeding season. Both governments are also working towards improving the lives and livelihoods of Hilsa-dependent communities. But the central challenge still remains on how to achieve a balance between conservation and fisheries-dependent livelihoods, while also managing the river habitat for the Hilsa.


Towards trans-boundary collaboration
The Sustainable Livelihoods for Hilsa-dependent Communities across India Bangladesh Riverscapes project will be working towards developing trans-boundary deliberative mechanisms, creating common ground for agreements while building confidence between the two countries.  It will create a space for different social groups within the marginal fisher community including women to be able to engage and be represented in fisheries federations and Hilsa conservation processes. The overall impact of the project will be a shared understanding of Hilsa management leading towards strengthening of livelihoods and economic benefits for Hilsa dependent communities.


[1] Chowdhury, A. and S. Mitra (2014).  Assessing sustainable livelihood strategies for fisherman communities during Hilsha fishing ban period in West Bengal, India. WWF. IUCN;

[1] Dewan A A, Naser M N, Bhaumik U, Hazra S and S B Bhattacharya (2014)  Migration, spawning patterns and Conservation of Hilsa Shad (Tenualosa ilisa) in Bangladesh and India

[1] Mohammed, E. Y. and Wahab. A. (2013). Direct economic incentives for sustainable fisheries management :the úncase of Hilsa conservation in Bangladesh. International Institute for Environment and Development, London.

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Bushra Nishat
Programme Manager, South Asia