Science-driven Policy Change to Restore Healthy Fish Stocks in Myanmar

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WorldFish co-developed science-driven policies that are securing sustainable livelihoods and nourishment for millions in Myanmar.

In Myanmar, the Hilsa shad is a critical fish for local livelihoods, nutrition, and ecosystems.

One farmer in the country underlined the importance of aquatic foods for their community: “Fish is very important to my family because it is not only our source of livelihood but also a source of vital nutrients that help us accomplish our daily tasks.”

However, Hilsa stocks in the region were discovered to be near economic collapse from overfishing and habitat degradation.

To reverse this loss of biodiversity, WorldFish and its partners kicked off a series of research programs to better understand Hilsa in the region, the drivers of its decline, and potential solutions. Researchers found the small-scale Hilsa fishery sector could be worth between USD 790 million and USD 1 billion per year, with more than 1.5 million fishers and market chain actors dependent on the fish for their livelihoods. They also discovered that more sustainable Hilsa management could help protect the Irrawaddy dolphin, a near-extinct species in the region.

A set of policy briefs, informed by the evidence, were presented to the government in Myanmar. One proposed policy to help protect Hilsa stocks included no-take zones, as ineffective enforcement often leads to overexploitation of coastal resources. Industrial bottom trawling, a type of fishing that drags large nets across the seafloor, also damages aquatic environments. Increased monitoring and surveillance can help check and restrain this practice.

As a result, a series of science-driven policies to protect Hilsa stocks were passed in critical regions of the country. Governments and local agencies implemented a closed season aligned with the peak spawning period identified by the research and designated 12 fish sanctuaries along key fish migration routes to protect the juveniles.

These newly enacted policies to protect the aquatic habitats of Hilsa will not only help revive ecosystems but will also ensure sustainable livelihoods and nutrition for the millions of fishers, related workers, and their families in Myanmar.

Funded by: The Darwin Initiative of the United Kingdom

Partners: Myanmar Department of Fisheries,
Zoology Department of Yangon University, the Networks Activity Group, International Institute for Environment and Development

Making nutrition accessible for the vulnerable

To improve and support nutrition in Myanmar in the face of conflict and instability, WorldFish worked with supply chain actors to produce and market dried fish powder, a long shelf-life food using locally sourced nutrient-dense small fish. The project helped improve the nutrition of more than 2,000 people, especially pregnant and lactating mothers and young children, while also creating a new source of income.