Enhanced Coastal Fisheries in Bangladesh (ECOFISHBD) is a five-year initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implanted jointly by WorldFish and Department of Fisheries (DoF), starting June 1, 2014. The project will support the GOB and coastal fishing communities to improve the resilience of the Ganges and Meghna River estuarine ecosystem and livelihoods that depend upon it.
The project objective is “Improved resilience of the Meghna River ecosystem and communities reliant on coastal fisheries” while the ECOFISH-Bangladesh project is programmed to be undertaken in five years, it is expected that it will contribute to a longer term outcome (20-30 years), ensuring that the Hilsa fishery in Bangladesh is no longer overexploited and threatened.
The national fish of Bangladesh, Hilsa (Tenualosailisha), once flourished in the Ganges/Meghna Rivers and 100 other rivers in Bangladesh. Engrained in the Bengali culture of Bangladesh and India, Hilsa is a highly nutritious and popular foodfish. A gradual decline of the Hilsa fishery reached a nadir of 0.19 million MT caught in 1991-1992. With GOB fisheries conservation management, Hilsa currently comprises 0.319 million MT (11% of approximately 2.9 MT of Bangladesh’s fish production), equivalent to 1% of GDP (Wahab, Phillips and Mohammed, in press). In addition to providing an important contribution to food and nutritional security, Hilsa are important culturally, socially, and religiously to Bengalis. Bangladesh is ranked first among countries most vulnerable to tropical cyclones and sixth most vulnerable to flooding. Given projections of climate change, the relative importance of fisheries to the national economy and diets, and limited capacity to adapt, fisheries in Bangladesh rank amongst the most vulnerable globally (Alison et al., 2009). By 2050, the increasing severity of floods and droughts is estimated to adversely affect 80 million people. This project will target Barisal and Khulna Divisions, which according to World Food Program poverty maps (2005) has some of highest poverty rates in the country. Environmental change, income and asset poverty, social, economic and political marginalization, poor responsiveness of state agencies, and inadequate social capital are all factors that contribute to loss of life and livelihoods during extreme climate events. Building resilient socio-ecological systems will require enhancing the adaptive capacity and social capital of vulnerable women and men, particularly in the area of resource management and decision-making, as well as strengthening the capacity and responsiveness of state agencies to support fishing community activities.
USAID has identified the following development hypothesis under its DO4: "Improved management of natural resources alongside livelihood diversification, climate risk management and enhanced capacity for low emissions development will address adaptation and mitigation of GCC, while providing sustainable economic benefits and clean energy resources for Bangladesh." ECOFISH-Bangladesh contributes directly to achieving USAID’s DO4 results. The four intermediate results areas included in the ECOFISH results framework and theory of change are causally linked. At the highest level the core links can be expressed as follows: “if decisions around fisheries management are based on shared, evidence-based objectives and learning (Result 1), are grounded in inclusive and effective ecosystem-scaled co-management structures (Result 2), and the assets of communities are strengthened (Result 3), then the sustainability of Bangladesh’s complex and productive coastal and riverine ecosystems will be enhanced”. Based on the development hypothesis and Theory of Change , each IR component will test and verify IR-specific hypotheses that underpin a chain of activity-result relationships constituting the basis for project monitoring, evaluation and learning. Answering the research questions of hypotheses, IR1 will generate the necessary scientific foundation for sound Hilsa fisheries management planning and decision making, specifically through improved sanctuary management (Sub-IR1.1, hypothesis 1-3) and better fisheries catch monitoring (Sub-IR 1.2; hypothesis 4). The questions related to IR2, will address different aspects of compliance with the fisheries management actions and capability of stakeholders to engage in co-management (Sub-IR2.1, hypothesis 5) through improved delivery of Government compensation (Sub-IR2.2, hypothesis 6). The hypotheses of IR3 are designed to test whether community savings schemes would incentivize women to take fewer loans from micro-finance providers by increasing the access to finance from their own savings (Sub-IR3.1, hypothesis 8); how livelihood diversification can improve wellbeing (Sub-IR3.2, hypothesis 7) and whether engagement in AIGAs outside fisheries increases overall income (Sub-IR3.3, hypothesis 7). IR4 will assist co-management implementation through reviewing existing government policies, advocacy and formulation of improved policies (Sub-IR4.1), reducing exploitation by addressing power dynamics and fishers’ rights (Sub-IR4.2) and sustainable finance for ecosystem services (Sub-IR4.3).
The project activities are based on diagnosis of the current status of the socio-ecological system and generation of new knowledge to determine goals and opportunities aimed at enhancing ecosystem resilience through informed multi-stakeholder engagement, specifically: (a) lessening overfished capture fisheries and restoring the natural stock of fish, and (b) improving equitable community development and enhancing options for livelihood diversification. The interventions planned under ECOFISH-Bangladesh will cover 20,000 households over the project period and thus improve the resilience of 100,000 fishing family members through different project interventions. Focus will also be given to development of a legal framework, as well as institutional arrangement for effective management of Hilsa fisheries. Throughout all the activities there will be a particular focus on deep and sustained stakeholder engagement and ensuring equitable and sustained outcomes for vulnerable social groups, including women. The ECOFISH-Bangladesh project will work at local, national, and regional levels, with integration of activities and findings across all levels. The ECOFISH-Bangladesh project was developed within the context of USAID’s broader Global Climate Change (GCC) and Biodiversity Conservation Initiatives. ECOFISH will incorporate identifying and maintaining biodiversity and other priority ecosystem services that support fisheries and men and women in poor fishing communities. The ECOFISH project also assists Bangladesh to reduce its vulnerability to climate change impacts, by decreasing the environmental, economic, and social consequences of climate change. Focus will also be given to concomitant improvements in policies and strategies as well as institutional strengthening by capacity building of two national organizations, Department of Fisheries (DoF) and Bangladesh National Fisheries Research Institute (BFRI), to deliver more effective science inputs, fisheries management and desired policy outcomes.