Resource base
About two-thirds of Bangladesh may be classified as wetlands according to the Ramsar Convention definition. About 6-7% of Bangladesh is always under water, and in the monsoon 21% is deeply (>90 cm) flooded and around 35% experiences shallow inundation.
Wetlands in Bangladesh encompass a wide variety of ecosystems including

  • mangrove forests,
  • natural lakes,
  • freshwater marshes,
  • reservoirs,
  • oxbow lakes,
  • haors (deep depressions in the north-east that coalesce to form a vast inland sea in the monsoon - rainy season)
  • beels (permanent freshwater depressions),
  • fish ponds and tanks,
  • estuarine waters, and
  • extensive seasonally inundated floodplains.

Distribution of wetlands in Bangladesh


Area (hectares)

Rivers and estuaries


Mangrove swamps


Shallow lakes and marshes (beels and baors)


Large water storage reservoirs


Small tanks and fish ponds


Shrimp ponds


Seasonally-flooded floodplains




Main source: Department of Fisheries (2008). Estimates of floodplain extent vary widely from 2.8 million hectares (DOF) to 4 million hectares (Ali, 1997).

Floodplain wetlands are complex systems where private land becomes a seasonal commons when flooded, and where people make use of a multitude of natural resources, all interlinked in an ecosystem connected through water. Floodplain wetlands in Bangladesh provide local people, especially the poor, with:

  • Fish, over 70% of households in the floodplains catch fish either for income or food (Minkin et al. 1997; Thompson et al. 2002).
  • Plants for human food, animal fodder and building materials,
  • Other goods and services including snails (collected for sale to duck and shrimp farmers), water for livestock, transport, etc.

Administrative and institutional arrangements
Although the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock and Department of Fisheries (DOF) are responsible for conserving and enhancing fisheries and fish production, and have set policies, strategies and rules, these agencies do not directly control the use of water bodies.
The Protection and Conservation of Fish Act (1950) and related Protection and Conservation of Fish Regulations (1985) prohibit fishing by harmful methods, pollution and other activities detrimental to fisheries, and enable the declaration of closed seasons. However, DOF has limited powers to enforce fishing restrictions, being dependent more on the will of fishers and leaseholders, with support from magistrates.
The larger permanent water bodies including rivers and beels (depressions in the deeper parts of the floodplain) that form the more valuable components of the overall fisheries are government property and have been divided up into about 12,000 jalmohals or fishery estates. The fishing rights in jalmohals have historically been managed by the Ministry of Land for revenue generation (although by now this makes a minuscule contribution to the national budget). They have been leased out on a competitive basis to the highest bidder for three years. Usually this means they are controlled by wealthy and influential lessees who then hire traditional professional fishers to catch fish for them or charge tolls from those fishers.
Earlier the government of Bangladesh attempted to reverse this pattern:

  • In the 1970s a preference for leasing jalmohals to fisher cooperatives was established.
  • From 1986 to the mid-1990s the New Fisheries Management Policy (NFMP) piloted licensing of individual fishers in about 270 jalmohals.

However, these policy changes had little impact since fisher cooperatives tend to be under the patronage of moneylenders and de facto lessees who pay for the lease, while the decision on who received licenses was also controlled by the cooperatives and therefore indirectly their patrons and gave no incentive for individual fishers to cooperate to conserve fish.
In 1995 a government decision ended leasing of rivers or “open waters”, with the stated aim of freeing poor fishers from exploitation, and they are now open access. This change was influenced by a group of wealthy boat owners and opened rivers and their fishers to exploitation and capture by those who invest in brushpiles and have local power. This system creates a significant number of management-related barriers affecting fisheries.
Since the mid-1990s through several projects the responsibility for around 300 jalmohals has been handed over for 10 years to the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock. Under MOFL the Department of Fisheries has reserved these jalmohals for use by CBOs formed through those projects. In most cases these CBOs are still functioning and many have established sanctuaries and closed seasons thereby restoring fishery productivity.
Some projects that have established CBOs managing floodplain resources




Aquaculture Development Project. Supported by IFAD. Established CBOs in 9 closed beels in southwest. Ended 2005.


Community Based Fisheries Management projects. Supported by Ford Foundation, UK DFID and IFAD. Established 107 CBOs in different types of waterbody. Ended March 2007. Lessons


Fourth Fisheries Project. Supported by World Bank and UK DFID. Established 46 CBOs in 40 waterbodies (started in 79 waterbodies). Ended June 2006. Lessons


Management of Aquatic Ecosystems through Community Husbandry project. Supported by USAID. Established 16 CBOs in three large wetlands. Ended June 2007. Lessons


Oxbow Lakes Project phase II. Supported by Danida and IFAD. Established 22 CBOs in closed beels in southwest. Ended June 1997.


Patuakhali-Barguna Aquaculture Development Project. Supported by Danida. Established 128 CBOs, but 100 are shrimp enclosures. Project ended, but continued programme support.


Small-Scale Water Resources Development Sector Project. Supported by ADB and Dutch government. First phase established 262 CBOs in floodplains in northwest and southwest, ended 2003. Second phase established about 200 CBOs to date.

1 under the Department of Fisheries               

2 under the Local Government Engineering Department

Based on experience developed through these projects since the late 1980s, the National Fisheries Strategy developed in 2005-6 regarding inland fisheries aims to support sustainability based on community participation, leading to a more equitable distribution of benefits. It proposed gradually reserving jalmohal leases for supervised CBOs against nominal lease payments, and restoration of fisheries.
By comparison, the majority of jalmohals leased under the traditional system have experienced over exploitation, declining catches, and a lack of conservation measures. Since fishers are usually poor and leases have to be paid at the start of the year, access for fishers is compromised.
Even with a preference in the traditional system for leasing to fisher cooperatives, middlemen pay the lease and take effective control using lists of their “fishers”.
In 2009 the Ministry of Land introduced its latest “Jalmohal Management Policy” English Bangla which on paper may encourage conservation based management by CBOs and ends competitive leasing. Instead, a registered CBO formed of “fishers” would receive a three-year lease, with the lease payment increasing by 5% in each round. However, it is open to potential manipulation over which group (“CBO”) gains access, also Members of Parliament have been given a role in advising on which CBO will get a lease.


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