Sustainable Management of Fisheries, Marine Living Resources and their Habitats in the Bay of Bengal Region for the Benefit of Coastal States and Communities

Total Period :: 2024 – 2028
Donor/Sponsor :: GEF and Norad
Lead Country :: None
Project Partner(s) :: GEF Implementing Agency: FAO Executing Agencies: IUCN and BOBP-IGO
Lead Technical Officer ::
Project Participating Country(ies) :: SEAFDEC: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand
BOBP-IGO: Bangladesh, India, Maldives, and Sri Lanka

1. Executive Summary

The Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) and Strategic Action Programme (SAP) phase of the BOBLME identified three priority transboundary concerns :

  1. overexploitation of marine living  resources,
  2. degradation of critical habitats, and
  3. pollution and water quality.

A BOBLME  program framework was developed with BOBLME countries to agree on priority issues to address  and these were included in this project: “Sustainable management of fisheries, marine living  resources and their habitats in the Bay of Bengal region for the benefit of coastal states and  communities”.  The project will address the following barriers:

  1. Institutional, legal and  administrative barriers; with incomplete regional policy cycles and weak national-regional as well  as science-policy interfaces, leading to poor governance;
  2. socio-economic barriers; by improving  stakeholder awareness, capacity, gender equity and participation, and introducing valuation of climate change in planning and management to enhance the resilience of its fisheries, critical habitats, and people’s livelihoods. The project objective is to contribute to sustainable management of fisheries, marine living resources and their habitats in the Bay of Bengal region, to reduce environmental stress and improve environmental status for the benefit of coastal states and communities. This will be achieved through five interlinked Project components based on the SAP themes, and with an added component to strengthen the institutional arrangements for regional partnerships coordination and collaboration, ecosystem-based monitoring, and assessment.
  • Component 1: Sustainable Management of Fisheries
  • Component 2: Restoration and conservation of critical marine habitats and conservation of biodiversity
  • Component 3: Management of coastal and marine pollution to improve ecosystem health
  • Component 4: Improved livelihoods and enhanced resilience of the BOBLME
  • Component 5: Regional mechanism for planning, coordination and monitoring of the BOBLME

The project will be implemented by three (3) executing agencies namely: the Bay of Bengal Programme Inter-Governmental Organization (BOBP-IGO), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) and IUCN also will perform as Regional Coordinating Unit (RCU). SEAFDEC will lead Southeast Asian activities under component 1, 3, and 5 which will be implemented from 2024 to 2028, except component 3 will be implemented from 2024 to 2026.

2. Background and Justification

The Sustainable Management of the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME) project phase I, an initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), was implemented in the eight (8) countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal from 2009 to the end of 2015. The project aimed at maintaining and improving the health of the region’s marine and coastal ecosystems and living resources, and consequently the lives of the coastal populations reliant on these resources.

In view of the shortcomings in the baseline scenario identified during the PPG phase (and summarized below), the Governments of Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Thailand have requested assistance from the GEF to formulate and implement this BOBLME Phase-2 project, and has received additional funding from Norad as co-finance. The project will produce key IW Global Environmental Benefits and CCM benefits through five well defined components, as follows:

Component 1: Sustainable Management of Fisheries
The baseline activities with respect to the implementation of Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) and specifically the development and implementation of fisheries management plans at national levels in the BOBLME have institutionalized EAFM. However, without an extension of investment to include plans for sub-regional areas and transboundary species the social, economic and environmental benefits within the LME will be undermined. Similarly, the lack of coordinated efforts to combat Illegal, Unreported and. Unregulated Fishing (IUU Fishing) in the sub-regional and region also undermines efforts to manage fisheries and ensure social, economic, and environmental benefits derived from the fisheries are sustained. Improving regional networks to more easily and rapidly share information on suspected IUU fishing activities will increase the capacity for apprehension of IUU fishers and close loopholes that encourage transboundary transgression. At a community level access to improved technology and training will increase community-based surveillance and reporting of IUU fishing activity and remove obstacles to non- reporting of catch.

The proposed GEF project will help national, provincial and local government resource managers, private sectors partners, non-governmental organizations, and local resources users to reorient their practices by adopting participatory ecosystem approaches to fisheries management that will conserve marine and coastal ecosystem services (including climate change resilience) and support the sustainable use of resources to enable livelihoods, strengthen food security, and promote gender mainstreaming. The project will also work with partners to strengthen capacities for transboundary cooperation for the monitoring, control and surveillance of IUU fishing, building on baseline activities that currently are individual to each country.

Component 2: Restoration and conservation of critical marine habitats and conservation of biodiversity
Current baseline national actions have identified degradation of critical habitats such as mangroves, coral reefs and seagrasses as priorities to address. Over 4,500 km2 of mangroves have been lost in the region over the last 30 years. The major cause of loss of mangroves has been conversion for agriculture (82%) and conversion for aquaculture (12%). Coral reefs in South Asia and Southeast Asia continue to suffer, including from rises in Sea Surface Temperature which results in bleaching. Reefs that continue to be at greatest risk from a combination of (i) coastal development, (ii) overexploitation and destructive fishing practices, (iii) the impact of inland pollution and erosion, and (iv) marine pollution, are the reefs around Aceh and the islands off Sumatra in Indonesia and Malaysia west coast. There is insufficient information to assess the status of seagrass, although it is thought that many of the BOBLME region’s seagrass beds are either already degraded or threatened. Protection of critical habitats and Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species needs to increasingly be incorporated into EAFM and more MMA are required nationally but also planning at a sub-regional and regional level to ensure necessary protection and representation is assured. The proposed GEF project will lead to improved management and status of degraded, vulnerable and critical coastal and marine habitats and ETP species in the BOBLME through integrating marine spatial management tools, such as Marine Managed Areas (MMAs), and Vulnerable Ecosystems (VEs) into fisheries and biodiversity conservation management of critical habitats in the Andaman Sea and other areas in the Bay of Bengal. The project will support national, provincial and local government resource managers, private sector partners, non-governmental organizations, and local resources users to strengthen management of existing MMA’s and establish new MMA’s where agreed. Regional and national capacity development programs will be established.

Component 3: Management of coastal and marine pollution to improve ecosystem health
Under the baseline scenario the problems causing poor water quality and transboundary pollution will continue unabated. The priority issues of sewage-borne pathogens, organic load from sewage and other sources, marine litter, increasing nutrient inputs, oil pollution, Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and Persistent Toxic Substances (PTS), and mercury pollution will all intensify. The effects of pathogens and high organic loads are likely to be localized except in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna system where sewage and other organic contaminants are shared in the northern part of the Bay of Bengal due to high river discharge and ocean circulation patterns. Marine litter, including plastic and discarded fishing gear, will continue to be transported long distances in the marine environment and will continue to be a major transboundary issue. Increasing nutrient inputs from rivers will lead to inner-shelf hypoxic zones that will adversely affect transboundary fish stocks – a large (approx. 60,000 km2) hypoxic or ‘dead’ zone in the northwest part of the Bay has been detected. Increasing nutrients will result in Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), also known as red tides. The widespread discharge of untreated or inadequately treated domestic, industrial and agricultural wastewater and marine origin pollution will continue.

The proposed GEF project will lead to reductions in the amount of marine litter and pollution from fishing through the marking and recovery and recycling of gear and reduction of pollution from fishery landing areas. These changes will benefit coastal populations and other stakeholders such as tourism. The reduction in marine litter will benefit marine life. This component will also constitute

Component 4: Improved livelihoods and enhanced resilience of the BOBLME
Under the current baseline, livelihoods and resilience in the coastal communities of the BOBLME remain vulnerable. Over 50 percent of all of the world’s coastal poor live in the countries of the BOBLME. Although under the current baseline investment the contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by fisheries remains low, marine living resources remain important for the livelihoods of millions of people and communities (in particular as a source of food). Most of the region’s governments have set marine and freshwater fishery production targets to meet demands, many of which are at the limits of stock sustainability and consequently require accuracy and precision on catch information to ensure biological limits are not exceeded. Most countries have relatively well-formulated legislation and policies to regulate the different sectors, however harmonization across sectors is still required. This includes harmonization within government services that are applied in multi-layered manner (national-provincial/state and local). Many countries now have “decentralization” policies that present new challenges for the coordination and implementation of policies.

The proposed GEF project will contribute to positive changes in the overall well-being of coastal people and their involvement in both fishery management and biodiversity conservation. This is expected to lead to both enhanced ecosystem resilience of the BOBLME and of local livelihoods and food security. Vulnerability to natural hazards, and climate variability and change will be reduced and livelihoods diversified for selected coastal communities, with equal opportunities for women, men and youth. This component will also constitute a platform to support implementation of key concerns of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication SSF-Guidelines (VGSSF), as well as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VG-Tenure).

Component 5: Regional mechanism for planning, coordination and monitoring of the BOBLME
Under the current baseline, transboundary cooperation on management of shared coastal and marine resources across the BOBLME will remain limited. Some cooperation exists within and between organizations including Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Bay of Bengal Programme (BOBP-IGO), the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission (APFIC), the Indian Ocean Global Ocean Observing System (IOGOOS), Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia and Pacific (NACA), South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP), and Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), and the Regional Plan of Action to Promote Responsible Fishing Practices including Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing in the Region (RPOA-IUU).

The proposed GEF project will strengthen the capacity of stakeholders at all levels (in countries and regional partners) to plan and coordinate management activities at regional level. The project will strengthen regional cooperation between countries and between government agencies within countries with the engagement of civil society and the private sector. The Project will focus on strengthening the mechanisms at regional and national levels for planning, coordination, and monitoring of the BOBLME. The project will support the development of the “Consortium for the Conservation and Restoration of the BOBLME” (CCR-BOBLME) which by the end of the project will meet regularly to promote information exchange and capacity development; monitor BOBLME health and status and monitor progress of the SAP implementation activities and projects. The establishment of the CCR-BOBLME will involve the development of a cooperative agreement for monitoring ecosystems targets in the SAP and compilation, analysis, safe storage and sharing of information of historical baseline ecosystem data at national and regional levels.

The overall project objective is to contribute to sustainable management of fisheries, marine living resources and their habitats in the Bay of Bengal region for the benefit of coastal states and communities. This objective will be achieved by the following five interlinked Components along with associated Outcomes, Outputs and tentative activities.

Working with stakeholders, the project will work on addressing the priorities identified in the Program Committees of SEAFDEC, the SEAFDEC Council and ASEAN priority areas/targets for fisheries. In particular, the project will focus on:

  • Building regional cooperation around fishery management and combating IUU fishing under Outcome 1.2 focused on reducing the IUU catch on the BOBLME
  • Tackling improved management and use of Ecosystem approach, particularly under Outcome 1.1, focused on the institutionalization of the ecosystem approach to fisheries management at national level, including targeted transboundary fish stocks
  • Addressing environmental aspects of fisheries and build wider cooperation across ministries of environment, collaborating with IUCN and the Ministries of Environment for the implementation of Component 2
  • Support small-scale fisheries and promote the implementation of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication throughout the project and particularly under Component 4 of the project, and supporting IUCN in the execution of that component.
  • Complementing the FAO programs of support and FAO cooperation with SEAFDEC, promoting FAO and SEAFDEC policy documents, such as
    • SEAFDEC Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, which focuses attention on the cultural needs of the region, the tropical multispecies nature of fisheries and the need for management that reflects regional needs. This reflects regional requirements for full utilization of catches as a mechanism for resolving discards and bycatch whilst supplying marine protein to coastal communities and creating jobs.
    • SEAFDEC regional initiatives on combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in Southeast Asia and optimizing energy use in fisheries in the Southeast Asian region through fishing vessels energy audits. The project on the Promotion of Sustainable Fisheries and IUU Fishing-related Countermeasures in Southeast Asia, which is being implemented by SEAFDEC with funding support from the Japanese Trust Fund (JTF), includes the Promotion of Regional Database for Fishing Vessels Records, and Port State Measures implementation in Southeast Asia. An EAFM training program is also being sustained through SEAFDEC in collaboration with other partners. BOBLME will build on the process initiated by relevant SEAFDEC JTF projects to address the issue to combat IUU fishing.
    • BOBLME will promote and provide support for the implementation of the Regional Plans of Actions, such as the RPOA-Neritic Tuna, RPOA-Capacity, and RPOA-IUU.
    • The implementation of FAO’s Strategic Objectives and regional priority areas of work related to Climate Change and sustainable natural resource management, One-Health and Blue Growth in fisheries, the FAO’s Committee on Fisheries (COFI), implements a broad range of binding and voluntary instruments such as the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF) and International Plans of Action (IPOAs). The BOBLME will facilitate the promotion of these policies and will provide guidance on how to address IUU fishing and other transboundary fisheries management issues, while providing lessons learned based on experience of putting those instruments into practice. 

Contribution to the SDGs

  • Expected outcomes of the proposed project are fully consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and will contribute to a range of important socio-economic and environmental SDG targets, especially SDG 14 : Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources, and its targets 1-5: by 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution; by 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans; minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels; by 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time possible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics; and by 2020, conserve at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information
  • The project will directly contribute to the Resolution and Plan of Action on Sustainable Fisheries for Food Security for the ASEAN Region Towards 2030, including the support to priority actions related to A. Planning and Information; B. Fisheries Management, and F. Regional and International Policy Formulation

3. Gender Sensitivity of the Project

The project is fully aligned to and supports SEAFDEC, FAO and GEF policies on gender equality and mainstreaming. In particular, in relation to supporting countries to implement the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines) and their commitments to gender equality and achieving SDG Goal 5 (gender equality and empowering all women and girls). The SSF Guidelines call for equal participation of women and men in organizations and in decision-making processes. Policies and legislation must support equality, and both women and men must have access to appropriate technologies and services to carry out their work. Gender equity and equality are core objectives and guiding principles of the SSF Guidelines.

In fisheries, women’s involvement in, and contribution to, the sector is more significant than often assumed. These roles can include gleaning, near-shore fishing, and aquaculture to post-harvest activities. FAO (SOFIA 2018) estimated that in 2016, overall, women accounted for nearly 14 percent of all people directly engaged in the fisheries and aquaculture primary sector as compared with an average of 15.2 percent across the reporting period 2009–2016. However, when both the primary and secondary sectors of aquaculture and fisheries are considered the workforce was evenly divided between men and women.

During the SAP development phase, BOBLME participating countries recognized the importance of gender in fisheries and small-scale fisheries in the region in particular. A comprehensive gender analysis was undertaken during this phase. BOBLME member countries and partners considered this analysis as current and relevant. Support to BOBLME countries to implement these recommendations is still required.

This comprehensive gender analysis and audit was undertaken of the BOBLME and made a range of recommendations on mainstreaming gender in the ongoing project and the SAP implementation 1. The gender audit covered a number of international and regional instruments and national development and fisheries policies. The findings indicated uneven progress in tackling gender inequalities and accounting for gender issues overall and a cultural and institutional environment that was not conducive to gender mainstreaming initiatives.

Key entry points to mainstream gender in the SAP were identified as follows:

  • Addition of a statement of political will or commitment to gender
  • Consideration of gender-sensitive actions
  • Addition of a section on cross-cutting issues covering gender training, communication, legislation, capacity building at field level, gender-disaggregated data collection, and research on gender issues
  • Consideration of incentives and accounting mechanisms
  • Earmarking of a specific budget for gender-related activities at the project level and strategic actions
  • Addition of a pathway to impact, and
  • Use of outcome mapping as a form of monitoring and evaluation

The last two are seen as pivotal in capturing the changes that are expected as a result of both mainstreaming gender in the project, and the project’s own influence in progressing towards gender equality. In addition to these, key recommendations for future action by the BOBLME partner countries include:

  • Commissioning of a gender-sensitive review of legislation and regulatory frameworks in the BOBLME partner countries
  • Following through the mainstreaming of gender in the NAPs, mirroring what has been proposed to mainstream gender in the SAP
  • Tackling gender-disaggregated data collection as soon as possible
  • Ensuring the continuous provision of gender inputs throughout the project duration
  • Strengthening the participatory processes undertaken so far by the project
  • Avoiding falling in the Women in Development/efficiency rhetoric and maintaining a focus on the addressing of gender issues and inequality, and
  • Supporting gender training and capacity building at all levels, beyond the life of the project

A draft Gender Action Plan (GAP) for the project has been prepared along with tentative activities. This GAP will be developed fully during the inception work planning period and based on country needs and consultations with implementing partners. This updated GAP will include gender specific outcomes, outputs and activities, budgets and revised indicators for the project, including an updated project baseline.

Gender focal points and/or champions in each country will be identified and consulted throughout the GAP elaboration process.

The updating of the GAP will be undertaken at the same time as the national and regional work planning and will include capacity development for key staff.