Small is scale, big in contributions

Small in Scale, Big in Contributions:
Advancing Knowledge of Small-Scale Fisheries in Bangladesh

Edited by Mohammad Mahmudul Islam

Small-scale fishers in Bangladesh are exposed to immense vulnerabilities because of the nature of their work and geographical position. Among them, fishing labourers are likely the most vulnerable due to the disadvantaged labour arrangement in the fishery sector. The awareness of labour rights among fish labourers was found to be extremely low. As the fishing labours constitute the largest portion of the workforce employed in small-scale fisheries of Bangladesh, the well-being of the fishing labour should be a priority of the fisheries governance.

This chapter presents the diversity and characterization of the common fishing crafts and gears used in the coastal artisanal fishery of Bangladesh. The coastal artisanal fishery of Bangladesh is a multi-gear, multi-craft, and multi-species fishery with small, traditional fishing crafts equipped with low-tech gears requiring labour-intensive fishing methods. Crafts are mostly traditional wooden boats with an increasing trend of mechanization, which varies in their construction and equipment in terms of size, engine power, and gear handling systems based on the area of operation and type of gear to be operated. Gears are mostly low-tech traditional types based on labour-intensive methods of operation. Many have remained the same for centuries, while others have been modernized through long modification processes in synchronization with the changes in the target fish, climatic and environmental conditions, and socioeconomic and sociocultural features over time.

This chapter provides an overview of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small-scale fisheries in Bangladesh and the subsequent responses from the government to support small-scale fisheries. The findings show that, similar to the global situation, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought wide impacts on small-scale fisheries in Bangladesh, affecting production, processing, distribution, market, food security and nutrition. In response, some initiatives have been taken at the national and local levels to minimize the effects on small-scale fisheries... The study suggests strengthening the adaptive capacity of small-scale fishing communities, especially in response to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, by promoting meaningful partnerships among the fishing  communities, researchers, and formal and informal institutions to improve fisheries governance.

A typology of small-scale fisheries in the Kaptai Lake, Bangladesh, is developed to unpack its complexities, heterogeneity, and dynamics. Based on the level of financial investment in fishing activities, three types of small-scale fishing activity were identified. They include: Type-1 fishers with the highest financial investment; Type-2 fishers with a lower financial investment; and Type-3 fishers with no financial investment. While each group faces different threats and challenges, a list of common threats to their livelihoods is identified. This typology identifies the multiple dimensions of small-scale fisheries in similar contexts. As developing countries have limited resources to support fishers, this typology will be helpful to point out the specific problems and needs of particular fisher groups.

This chapter presents a case study addressing the complexities of the Tanguar Haor fisheries’ social-ecological system. The study identified how the actors interact with the biophysical system through a governance system. As a result, the actors involved with fishing faced a more complex governance system, which has implications on social equity and sustainability of the SES system. The analysis revealed the necessity of developing a long-term participatory management initiative and improving the system’s sustainability. The research will be helpful as a diagnostic tool for identifying management challenges and complexities that lead to a disadvantaged socioeconomic position of Tanguar Haor’s small-scale fishers, who are already living on the fringes of society.

The haor basin ecosystem in northeastern Bangladesh is a natural hotspot of inland fish diversity, which significantly contributes to country’s small-scale fisheries. Small-scale fisheries provide food security and employment for the millions of fishers in the haor region. However, the decline in fish diversity has become a major concern in the basin due to several natural, social, and governance-related drivers. Using the I-ADApT framework as the analytical lens, this chapter assesses fish species diversity and responsible stressors impacting the natural, social, and governing systems. The chapter concludes with a presentation of major problems accountable for declining small-scale fisheries production of the basin with possible conservation measures.

The fisheries resources of the Sundarbans support emergency food provision and provide alternative job opportunities for non-fishing resource users, especially after a disaster. However, this unique fisheries ecosystem faces serious, multifaceted threats and stressors caused by overexploitation, illegal fishing practices, and natural disasters. Thus, the livelihood security of the resource users will continue to be negatively affected now and in the near future. By considering the ecological and economic value of the Sundarbans, this chapter calls for the critical attention of policymakers to urgently adjust the Sundarbans fisheries management in light of new information and scientific approach.

Oxbow lakes, locally known as baor, have formed during the decades-long process in which dead sections of rivers altered their course while keeping in a considerable amount of water. This chapter discusses the historical evolution of baor management regimes, different management systems, resource status, and users. The findings suggest that the baor resources are being governed by Jolmohal Management Policy (2009) under three management categories. This chapter highlights the limitations of management regulations and discusses fishers’ rights, hazards, and livelihoods, concluding that the second management approach category is the best. Based on field observations and stakeholders’ input, the chapter provides recommendations on overcoming challenges and ways to improve the management and sustainability of resources.

Women play an important role in the small-scale fisheries of Bangladesh, yet their contributions remain inadequately recognized and underreported in both governmental and academic sectors. To date, women's contributions in the country's small-scale fisheries have been poorly studied, thereby available literature offers an incomplete illustration of the precise magnitude and type of participation of women in this sector. This chapter examines women's visible and invisible roles in Bangladesh's small-scale fisheries through literature review, illustrating how women in the fishing communities are deeply involved in both household and fisheries-related activities. This chapter also explores how fisherwomen help their families cope with crises. Furthermore, the difficulties experienced by fisherwomen and the factors that affect them adversely are also outlined, accompanied by suggestions on how to alleviate these problems, and increase women's productivity in small-scale fisheries. 

This chapter reveals how riverine fisheries serve as a livelihood option for vulnerable fishing communities and identifies the major challenges and stressors these communities face at the Bangladesh-India border. Riverine fishery plays a significant role in livelihood, food, nutritional security, employment, and culture for the local fishing communities; however, this community is continuously shrinking and displaced due to various natural and man-made reasons, particularly by a barrage in the upstream. The "Farakka Barrage" extremely disrupted the natural riverine production systems, especially fisheries, by noticeably changing natural flow patterns and hindering migrations of fish. Most importantly, riverbank erosion threatens fishers’ livelihoods, leading to a devastating loss of homestead land while also changing border boundaries at the frontier. To shield the geophysical and socioeconomic vulnerability of fishers, the unprotected settlement should be safeguarded by efficient and environment-friendly embankments, and their livelihoods should be protected under existing social safety net programs.


The Halda River, locally known as a 'magical fish bank', is one of the unique aquatic features in Bangladesh in terms of providing ecological services and goods, economic returns, and societal contexts. Natural production of Indian major carps happens in this tidal river, which are collected and processed to hatch in the mud-made coop deploying indigenous technology on the riverbank. These eggs, seeds, and fingerlings ultimately cater to 60% of the country's carp seed demand in aquaculture. However, this natural resource is losing its uniqueness and productive contexts due to anthropogenic pressures. Among the factors of resource depletion of this river, pollution, man-made infrastructural changes, overfishing, and illegal fishing disturb the natural spawning grounds.  This chapter discusses current threats and forthcoming challenges, and recommends a basis for the policymakers to secure small-scale fisheries in the Halda River and associated communities.

As an export commodity and luxury seafood, there has been increasing interest in crab harvest and crab farming in Bangladesh. The mud crab farming and fishing sector are playing a significant role in the national economy of Bangladesh through foreign exchange earning, increasing employment opportunities, and by improving the livelihood of the rural communities in the coastal region. While crab farming systems are often considered more resilient to environmental stressors and disease than shrimp farming, crab farming in Bangladesh is underdeveloped. Given that the farming depends on the wild seed stock, the existing crab stock in the wild is already at risk and over-exploited. Further, low socio-economic capitals are observed in the crab fishing and farmer communities. Any disruption in international markets creates tremendous negative impacts on the income of marginal crab fishers and farmers, as evident in the COVID-19 situation. Therefore, the sectors warrant appropriate planning and policy supports for sustainable development.


This chapter depicts how uncontrolled taming of a transboundary river has affected the livelihood of Bangladeshi fishers, who once upon a time led a prosperous life thanks to the river's bounty, but have recently become destitute, landless people. To tap the water resource with its huge hydropower potential, at least 15 hydro-electric power plants are currently being built, and the two largest projects of this kind are already in operation. This damming of the river, coupled with the glacier retreat in the Himalayas, leads to diminishing river flow, resulting in the most disastrous consequences in downstream Bangladesh. The consequences are both the environmental devastation and the livelihoods being put in peril, in particular those of fishing people.  The release of water from the upstream barrages during monsoons causes a massive deluge in downstream areas where millions of people lose their houses and other properties. This study puts forward some recommendations towards sustainable livelihoods for fishing people in the Teesta River basin.

Saint Martin's Island is the only coral-bearing Island in Bangladesh that has a settlement of traditional small-scale fishers. In recent decades, the island became a tourist hotspot of Bangladesh, leading to competing interests in fisheries and tourism. While the expanding tourism industry helps local fishers in improving their livelihood by creating alternative income opportunities, the negative impacts of unregulated tourism and irresponsible tourist activities are now clearly visible through degradation of coral habitat, environmental pollution, and competition over coastal space between fishers and tourism entrepreneurs. Thus, small-scale fishers face competition in defending the coastal space and surrounding coral ecosystem on which they depend for their livelihoods and well-being. This study calls for restriction measures, such as assessing the carrying capacity of the island and implementing regulations for the protection of islands and surrounding coral ecosystems.

This chapter focuses on the river-based livelihood and economies of local communities along the Sangu River basin in Bangladesh in response to climate change-induced problems. The fishers experienced climate change impacts through loss and damage of physical assets, reduced fisheries productivity, low fish catch and a decrease in fishing income.  Due to a low adaptive capacity, fishers tend to be poorer, more marginalized and at risk of losing their occupation as a direct impact of extreme, climate change-induced events. While the fishers adapt different strategies, these adapting mechanisms are coming under increasing strain with both the increase in climate change and an increase in the frequency and intensity of naturally occurring hazards. The adaptive capacity of small-scale fishers can be strengthened through policies that enhance social and economic equity, reduce poverty, improve fisheries resources and coastal management, and increase community participation in strengthening the institutions.

Using twelve years (2007-2018) of catch-effort data and one-year monthly catch data, this chapter evaluated the catch-effort dynamics and stock status of the artisanal fishery in the Bay of Bengal. A total of 62 fish and shrimp species were reported from artisanal fishery catch. The stock information indicates the unsustainable status of the fishery that is affected by overfishing. Moreover, the biomass level is not sufficient to produce maximum sustainable yield (MSY). The overfishing hurts the coastal and marine ecosystem by changing the food chain and truncating the food web, threatening the ocean health. To reverse the overfishing, it is strongly recommended that the annual catch of artisanal fishery should not exceed the MSY limit (529,000 t year-1). In addition, some immediate management strategies should be put in place to ensure the sustainability of the artisanal fishery and protect the livelihoods of artisanal fishers of Bangladesh.

This study has measured the resilience of three coastal marine fishing communities of Rangabali Island in Bangladesh and assessed the factors responsible for increasing or decreasing the resilience. The findings have revealed that variations in the resilience scores are strongly affected (p-value < 0.001) by social, physical, and institutional attributes. More precisely, cooperation, trust, and equity among fishers, good leadership, physical assets ownership, proper early warning system, livelihood training programs, and strong government intervention have significant impacts in increasing the resilience of the fishing communities. This study suggests some measures to be taken to further strengthen the resilience of fishing communities, including strengthening social cohesion, introducing new aquaculture practices, incorporating value-added products, enhancing ice facilities, engaging women in income-generating activities, and improving emergency food, water, and medication facilities during disaster. In addition, both government and non-government organizations should work together to enhance the resilience of the fishing communities.


Small indigenous fish species are rich in essential micro-nutrients that can help tackle micronutrient deficiencies globally. They are the key regulator of Kaptai Lake fishery, the largest man-made lake in Bangladesh. This chapter investigates the biodiversity and conservation status of small indigenous fish species  and their threats and subsequent impacts on small-scale fisheries. A total of 49 small indigenous fish species  were recorded from the lake, and the majority of them (61%) fall under ‘least concerned’ category according to the IUCN Red list. However, pollution, habitat destruction, siltation, climate change, overexploitation, and extreme fishing pressure were identified as major causes that lower fish production capacity and pose threats to the biodiversity of the small indigenous fish species  in the lake. Better management strategies such as protection of natural breeding grounds, controlled pollution, proper implementation of fishing laws, scientific fishing policies, and integrative research could ensure sustainable management and conservation of these fish in the Kaptai Lake.



Tropical hilsa shad (Tenualosa ilisha) is an anadromous fish migrating from the sea to spawn in a freshwater river. This fishery constitutes an important fishery: it is the largest single-species fishery and contributes more than 10% of total fish production in Bangladesh. Climate change has potential impacts on the internal mechanism of hilsa species that may drive the fishery to shift their habitat, which is reflected in the diverging catch statistics of the hilsa fishery. The hilsa catch has declined in the inland due to the anticipated impact of anthropogenic changes, including climate change, whereas production from marine water is increasing. Apart from increasing fishing efforts, it could be assumed that the hilsa population is moving from the river towards the sea. The climate change-induced habitat change of the hilsa shad fishery has enormous implications for the livelihoods and occupational safety of the fishers. If the climate change impacts continue to aggravate, small-scale fishers are likely to be one of the worst victims because they are heavily dependent on the climate-vulnerable hilsa population. Further, if the hilsa fishery collapses, Bangladesh may face a significant implication for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Hundreds of small-scale fishing communities live along the Chattogram coast in Bangladesh’s southeast area. They have maintained their hereditary rights to the adjacent coastal space for fishing and other ancillary activities such as beaching boats and drying nets. However, the expanding shipbreaking industry threatens their tenure rights and livelihoods. Being extremely hazardous, shipbreaking industry was evicted from developed countries in the 1960s and has since gradually established a foothold in developing countries. Based on fishers’ perceptions and literature review, this chapter assesses the impacts of shipbreaking on the coastal environment and small-scale marine fisheries. Pollutants discharged from shipbreaking yards affect the surrounding marine ecosystem and biodiversity, having a devastating impact on small-scale fisheries. Fishers are confronted with enormous obstacles; fishing effort has increased, while catch per unit effort has reduced. They are also competing for coastal space at an increasing rate, putting their fishing and fishing-related activities in jeopardy.

TBTI Global Book Series

Small is Scale, Big In Contributions: Advancing Knowledge of Small-Scale Fisheries in Bangladesh is the eight book published under TBTI Global Book Series. This publication series aims to highlight why we need to pay close attention to small-scale fisheries. The series will be of use to anyone interested in learning more about small-scale fisheries, especially about their important contribution to livelihoods, well-being, poverty alleviation and food security, as well as to those who are keen to help raise profile of small-scale fisheries in the policy realm.

How to cite

Mohammad Mahmudul Islam (Ed.) 2021. Small is Scale, Big In Contributions: Advancing Knowledge of Small-Scale Fisheries in Bangladesh. TBTI Global Publication Series, St. John's, NL,Canada.