A coastal livelihood with a catch

Banning prawn larvae fishing increases food vulnerability in coastal communities in Bangladesh

Photo: N. Ahmed
“Fishing for postlarvae has negative ecological effects and definitely need to be managed to prevent loss of biodiversity and coastal fish production but the importance of this sector for many marginalized coastal communities cannot be overstated. New governance and management structures could allow for some fishing activity without jeopardizing other functions and values of the marine ecosystem".
 
This is one of the key findings from a recent study conducted by centre researcher Max Troell together with colleagues from Bangladesh Agricultural University, The Worldfish Centre and University of Stirling.
 
The article, entitled "Prawn postlarvae fishing in coastal Bangladesh : Challenges for sustainable livelihoods", describes how fishing for prawn postlarvae is a major contributor to the livelihoods of coastal communities in Bangladesh, but that this come at a cost for the environment.
 
Of socio-economic importance but with ecological implications
Prawn postlarvae fishing in southwest Bangladesh started already in the early 1970s, and have since developed to a large industry, providing the livelihoods for around 400,000 people, many of them women and children, in coastal Bangladesh.
 
Some 1500—2000 million postlarvae, valued at around US$30 million, are collected from the wild every year.
 
- Postlarvae fishing is a seasonal activity, often carried out but the landless poor and the unemployed, and although lasting only few months of the year at most, it can contribute a substantial part of the annual income, explains Max Troell.
 
By-catch rates among the highest in the world
Environmental impacts from prawn postlarvae fishing are mainly associated with significant by-catches and destruction of habitats, such as important coastal nursery grounds. By-catch rates are extremely high as prawn postlarvae are typically harvested using very fine mesh nets. The by-catch rates (by number) found in the study were among the highest of any fishery in the world.
 
The lack of alternative livelihoods for poor people engaged in postlarvae fishing is one of the principal constraints on implementing the ban.
 
So-called “food for work" and “food for education" programs, where workers are paid with food rather than money, can provide alternative livelihood options during off seasons.
 
Spatial and seasonal bans could be implemented
Troell and his co-authors argue that because of the negative environmental implications from postlarvae fishing it should preferably be banned in certain ecologically sensitive areas near the Sundarbans, and also adjacent some important fish and prawn postlarvae migration routes.
 
Spatial and seasonal bans could be implemented as well as introduction of a licensing system, stricter regulation of mesh sizes and applying techniques that minimize mortality of by-catch.

Training and awareness programs should be initiated and postlarvae survival rates can be substantially improved by promoting better practices in gear operation, fry sorting, holding and marketing.
 
- A reduction in fishing pressure could improve the viability for those that stay engaged in fishing for prawn postlarvae. Thus, today fishers indicate that due to the reduced catches of postlarvae, this activity does not any longer improve their income to such a level that they feel their livelihoods to be resilient to the vulnerability context they encounter, the researchers state.

Source: Nesar Ahmed, Max Troell, Edward H. Allison, James F. Muir (2010) 'Prawn postlarvae fishing in coastal Bangladesh: Challenges for sustainable livelihoods'. Marine Policy 34: 218—227

Reference

Citation

Nesar Ahmed, Max Troell, Edward H. Allison, James F. Muir (2010) 'Prawn postlarvae fishing in coastal Bangladesh: Challenges for sustainable livelihoods'. Marine Policy 34: 218—227

Max Troell is a Researcher at the Beijer Institute and co-theme leader of “Governance and ecosystem management of coastal and marine systems" at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

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