Cooperation, Conflicts and Sustainability in Community-Managed Fisheries in Bangladesh

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"Since late 1995 a partnership of Bangladesh Department of Fisheries, five Non-Governmental Orgainzations and ICLARM has worked with fishing communities in 19 waterbodies to establish local user management institutions under the Community Based Fisheries Management Project. These fisheries differ in physical characteristics (rivers, seasonal wetlands, lakes); in property rights (open access, community rights, group control of state property); and in the co-management arrangements introduced (multi-stakeholder committees and exclusive groups of fishers). Government and NGO support was intended to empower fishing communities and to provide the incentive needed for the inhabitants of several villages in each site to cooperate in conserving and enhancing their fisheries. The pattern of cooperation and conflicts has been used as an indicator of the development and likely sustainablility of community management institutions. "In the six relatively smaller (average 36 ha) closed beels (lakes) the limited number of participants (average 96 households) obtained exclusive use rights, elected their leaders and cooperated extensively among themselves in a relatively intensive management system of stocking fish, guarding them and sharing equally in harvesting and income. In all cases there was three-way cooperation between DOF, NGO and fishers. Internal conflicts are part of the process that reduces the power of the few past fisher leaders, but outside forces that try to obtain use rights threaten sustainability. "In three open beels/wetlands (average 300 ha in monsoon) an average of 325 households were organized into NGO-supported groups. The wider community of farmers and landless people are also stakeholders, either owning land and kuas (catch-ponds) in the floodplain or depending on free access to fish for food in the monsoon. Management decisions only by NGO-orgainzed fishers and by a committee representing all stakeholders were tested. In all three beels a wider consensus was achieved resulting in local fish sanctuaries and voluntary closed seasons. "The 10 river sections are substantially larger (average 480 ha excluding floodplain), the NGO partners have orgainzed on average over 300 traditional fisher households at each site into groups. However, the change to open access policy means that cooperation has been limited to the NGO-organized fishers (only part of the fishing community) over operational rules such as rotating fishing between teams within a gradually narrowing area. The dominant pattern has been conflict, particularly with outsiders who build brush-piles to capture part of the resource or attempt to have the open access policy reversed locally so they can lease the river. In one case the local elected council became actively involved and the management committee established some consensus and implemented a sanctuary. "Community management of fisheries in Bangladesh has been shown to be feasible, but the relevant community is not always easily defined. In the open waters the government has not yet recognized formally any right for the users or wider community to limit fishing effort."
IASC, common pool resources, fisheries, co-management, cooperation, conflict, property rights, participatory management