International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

Bay of Bengal

After the Member States develop their National Plans of Actions for Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (through the various national workshops), the countries are supposed to work together to develop a Regional Plan of Action that involves the management of transboundary species and specific management plans for major commercial species (such as the work that the BOBP-IGO has undertaken with regards to the hilsa and shark fisheries). In addition, the BOBP-IGO will disband if the number of Member States decreases to three countries – unless the remaining three Member States unanimously agree to continue the BOBP-IGO.



The Agreement on the Institutionalisation of the Bay of Bengal Programme as an Inter-Governmental Organisation (“Agreement”) was signed on 26 April 2003 in Chennai, India (with the Maldives signing the Agreement on 21 May 2003).

The Agreement evolved from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (“FAO”) Bay of Bengal Programme, which was in place from 1979 to 2000. In the October 1999 Phuket Resolution, representatives from the fishery agencies of Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Thailand recommended the establishment of an Intergovernmental Organization for Technical and Management Advisory Services for Fisheries Development and Management in the Bay of Bengal Region.


The Member States of the Bay of Bengal Inter-Governmental Organisation on coastal fisheries (“BOBP-IGO”) are Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka. There have also been discussions for other countries in the Bay of Bengal region (such as Myanmar, Thailand, and Indonesia) to join the BOBP-IGO.


The BOBP-IGO is a regional fisheries organization for the Bay of Bengal. The Agreement does not define what constitutes the Bay of Bengal, but the Bay of Bengal is generally considered the northeastern part of the Indian Ocean surrounded by the basin countries of the Maldives, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.


Under Article 4 of the Agreement, the BOBP-IGO is granted juridical personality and the legal capacity needed to fulfill its objectives and to exercise its functions. In addition, the BOBP-IGO, the representatives of the Member States, the Director, and staff of BOBP-IGO are accorded the privileges and immunities that are necessary for the independent exercise of the functions provided for in the Agreement and by the BOBP-IGO. Each Member States is required to apply the privileges and immunities that are provided for in the U.N. Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of Specialised Agencies. The BOBP-IGO is headquartered in Chennai, India.


According to Article 3 of the Agreement, the aim of the BOBP-IGO is to enhance cooperation among the Member States, as well as with other countries and organizations in the region, and to provide technical and managerial support for the development and management of sustainable coastal fisheries in the Bay of Bengal region. Under Article 4, BOBP-IGO is responsible for:

  • Implementing programs and activities concerning the sustainable development and management of coastal fisheries;
  • Establishing an expanded network to share responsibilities for fisheries management, training, and information exchange;
  • Assisting Member States in improving the quality of life and increasing the livelihood opportunities of small-scale fishers;
  • Increasing the knowledge and awareness of the benefits, needs, and practices of coastal fisheries management;
  • Assisting Member States in harmonizing their policies and legal frameworks regarding the sustainable development and management of the region’s coastal fisheries;
  • Training the personnel needed for coastal fisheries planning, research, training, extension and development;
  • Establishing a regional information system to share information on development, planning, research, and training;
  • Supporting the Member States in strengthening their national capabilities for the development and management of coastal fisheries;
  • Transferring to the Member States technologies and techniques to assist in the development of small-scale fisheries;
  • Establishing a framework for Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries in order to promote regional self-reliance in small-scale fisheries development;
  • Developing programs to promote female participation in coastal fisheries development;
  • Assisting Member States in conducting feasibility studies and project formulation; and
  • Performing any other activities as may be approved by the BOBP-IGO Governing Council.

The BOBP-IGO has released a Vision, Mission and Strategic Plan of Action (2010-2014) that is focused on: (a) improving the monitoring, control and surveillance of fishery resources among the Member States; (b) promoting safety at sea for artisanal and small-scale fishermen; (c) taking the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries to the grassroots level; (d) adapting to climate change; and (e) enhancing livelihoods for small-scale and artisanal fishermen. The BOBP-IGO has also been involved in programs on fish stocks assessments in the Bay of Bengal, capacity building and information services for fisheries development and management in the Bay of Bengal region, and setting up a regional information network. In addition, the BOBP-IGO is also investigating the option of adopting a broader mandate and becoming a Regional Fisheries Management Organization.


Under Article 8, the Governing Council is the highest body of the BOBP-IGO and is composed of representatives of the Member States. These Member State representatives are from the Focal Ministries in each country (i.e., the Ministry of Fisheries). The Governing Council holds sessions annually, with special sessions able to be convened at the request of two-thirds of the Member States. According to Article 9, the Governing Council determines the policies of BOBP-IGO and approves the work program and budget of the organization (with due consideration paid to the recommendations of the Technical Advisory Committee). The Governing Council is also responsible for: (a) assessing the financial contributions of the Member States; (b) establishing special funds in order to receive additional resources for programs and projects; (c) developing standards and guidelines needed for the running of the organization; (d) evaluating the work and activities of the BOBP-IGO; (e) approving agreements for cooperation; and (f) performing all other functions as called for in the Agreement or that are ancillary to achieving the approved activities. The Governing Council will also elect a Chairman and Vice-Chairman.

According to Article 12, the Governing Council appoints a Director, who is the legal representative of the BOBP-IGO. The Director is responsible for directing the work of the BOBP-IGO, according to the directions of the Governing Council. At each regular session of the Governing Council, the Director submits a report on the work of the BOBP-IGO and the audited accounts, as well as a draft work program and budget for the following year. The Director is also required, among other duties, to prepare and organize sessions of the Governing Council and other meetings of the BOBP-IGO; facilitate coordination among the Member States; organize conferences, regional training programs, and other meetings as specified in the work program; initiate proposals for joint action programs with other regional and international bodies; ensure that research findings, training manuals, and other relevant information is published; and take other needed actions as are consistent with BOBP-IGO’s objectives and as specified by the Governing Council. To carry out these objectives, the Director can appoint staff members and consultants. Below the Director, the staff structure is comprised of the Management Support Services, Resource Management Services, Information and Communication Services, and Policy Program Development Services.

Under Article 11, the Governing Council is required to establish a Technical Advisory Committee, consisting of one representative, who possesses expertise in coastal fisheries, from each Member State. The Technical Advisory Committee is responsible for advising the Governing Council on all technical aspects of the activities of the BOBP-IGO. The Technical Advisory Committee meets annually, or more frequently upon the request of the Governing Council. At each session, the Technical Advisory Committee adopts a report on its recommendations and conclusions, which it then submits to the Governing Council.


The Member States agreed that there should be a close working relationship between the BOBP-IGO and the FAO. The FAO is invited to attend, in an advisory capacity, the meetings of the Governing Council and the Technical Advisory Committee. The Member States also agreed that there should be cooperation between non-member donor governments and international organizations and institutions (especially those involved in the fisheries sector) that could contribute to the activities and objectives of the BOBP-IGO. For those non-member governments, organizations and institutions that make significant contributions to the activities of BOBP-IGO, they may be invited to attend the sessions of the Governing Council and the Technical Advisory Committee as observers. In addition, the BOBP-IGO is authorized to enter into agreements with these entities to specify participation rights in the BOBP-IGO.

In addition to the current Member States of the BOBP-IGO (Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka), Indonesia and Thailand were also invited to the Meeting of Plenipotentiaries to adopt the Agreement. Even though Indonesia and Thailand are not currently members of the BOBP-IGO, they can become parties to the Agreement by depositing an instrument of accession with the Director-General of the FAO (as the Depositary). Otherwise, if any other state wants to become a member of BOBP-IGO, the Governing Council must authorize (by a two-thirds vote of the Member States) that state to accede to the Agreement.


Under Article 8.6, each Member State has one vote in the Governing Council. Decisions of the Governing Council are generally made by majority vote (with a majority of Member States present constituting a quorum). Decisions concerning BOBP-IGO’s work program, budget, financial contributions, and new Member States must be approved by two-thirds of the Member States. Amendments to the Agreement must be approved by three-quarters of the Member States.


Under Article 19, disputes between the Member States concerning the interpretation or application of the Agreement should first be attempted to be settled by negotiation, conciliation, or similar means. If those methods fail, a party to the dispute can refer the matter to the Governing Council for its recommendation. If a settlement still cannot be reached, the matter will be submitted to a three-member arbitral tribunal. Each party to the dispute will appoint one arbitrator, and then those two arbitrators will jointly appoint the third arbitrator, who will also serve as President of the arbitral tribunal. If one of the parties does not appoint an arbitrator within two months of the appointment of the first arbitrator or the two party arbitrators cannot agree on a third arbitrator, the Chairman of the Governing Council will appoint the arbitrator. The proceedings of the arbitral tribunal are to be conducted in accordance with the rules of the U.N. Commission on International Trade Law. If a Member State does not abide by an arbitral award delivered under the Agreement, its rights and privileges of membership in the BOBP-IGO may be by suspended by a vote of two-thirds of the Member States.


In 2005, the Governing Council decided to create a database of scientific organizations and individual scientists who work on fisheries, aquaculture, and other related activities in the region. The database is intended to promote the sharing of information between relevant organizations and scientists and individuals in the region. Currently, the database is limited to the Member States and their populations, but the goal is to eventually expand the database to a wider audience. In addition, the Governing Council has approved activities regarding capacity building related to fisheries data collection methodologies and stock assessment.

In 1995, the FAO developed a global Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Under the old FAO Bay of Bengal Program and continuing under the BOBP-IGO, the Code of Conduct was translated into the languages of Bay of Bengal basin countries (Bengali, Dhivehi, Sinhalese, Thai, Oriva, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Hindi and Marathi) in order to better engage the fishing community in the region. The BOBP-IGO is continuing this effort to translate the Code of Conduct and its Technical Guidelines into additional regional languages. The BOBP-IGO also intends to promote the Code of Conduct and its Technical Guidelines though workshops, seminars, and regional training courses in Member States, as well as distributing booklets directly to local fisherman. The regional training courses consist of theoretical sessions, field visits and interactions regarding the Code of Conduct and are targeted at mid-level and junior level fisheries officials in the Member States.

In addition, documents from the FAO’s erstwhile Bay of Bengal Program are available online.


No specific provision.


Article 13 of the Agreement details the financial resources of the BOBP-IGO as: (a) contributions from the Member States; (b) revenues from providing services; (c) donations and voluntary contributions (that are compatible with the objectives of BOBP-IGO); and (d) other resources that are approved by the Governing Council and compatible with the objectives of BOBP-IGO.

Under Article 13.3, a Member State that has arrears totaling its contributions due from the two preceding calendar years will not be allowed to vote in the Governing Council. But, the Governing Council can still permit that Member State to vote if it finds that the Member State’s failure to pay its financial contribution was as a result of circumstances beyond its control.


The objective of the BOBP-IGO is to support the development and management of sustainable coastal fisheries in the Bay of Bengal region for the benefit of the entire region. To achieve this aim, the countries of the region have come together to discuss regional and national level management plans for certain fish stocks threatened by over-exploitation. For example, Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar have engaged in regional consultations on the preparation of management plans for hilsa fisheries. Regional consultations with the Member States have also been held regarding the development of a management plan for shark fisheries.

The Member States have also come together in regards to meeting the European Union’s (“EU”) Regulation on Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (“IUU”) Fishing. In September 2009, the Member States held a Regional Strategic Meeting on the EU measure in order to understand the impact of the EU IUU Fishing Regulation and to determine the ability of the countries to meet the EU’s requirements.


The BOBP-IGO has helped host national workshops across the region on monitoring, control and surveillance in marine fisheries. These workshops have focused on the scope for implementing an effective monitoring, control and surveillance system (such as registration and licensing of fishing vessels, effort optimization, institutional support and capacity building). National workshops have been held in all of the Member States. Each Member State is responsible for implementing its own monitoring, control and surveillance action plan.

As part of the BOBP-IGO’s Vision, Mission and Strategic Plan of Action (2010-2014), the BOBP-IGO has developed a plan to strengthen monitoring, control and surveillance of fishery resources in the Bay of Bengal among the Member States. After the Member States develop their National Plans of Actions for Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (through the various national workshops), the countries are supposed to work together to develop a Regional Plan of Action that involves the management of transboundary species and specific management plans for major commercial species (such as the work that the BOBP-IGO has undertaken with regards to the hilsa and shark fisheries). This enhanced monitoring, control and surveillance system would be supported by capacity building through technical training and cooperation with international partners. The BOBP-IGO will monitor the progress of developing an improved monitoring, control and surveillance system. An enhanced monitoring, control and surveillance system, as well as, management plans for the shark and hilsa fisheries are scheduled to be in place by the end of 2014.


For most of its activities, the BOBP-IGO works in partnership with other organizations and governments, as well as with domestic government agencies of the Member States. For example, as part of the FAO’s global project on Safety at Sea, one of the Regional Consultations on Safety at Sea for Small-Scale Fisheries for South Asia was jointly organized by the FAO, the Swedish International Development Agency (“SIDA), the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Alaska (“NIOSH”), and the BOBP-IGO. In addition, the Regional Workshops on Monitoring, Control and Surveillance are held in cooperation with various government agencies of the host Member State.

The BOBP-IGO is focused on small-scale fishers. For example, BOBP-IGO has also worked with the International Cooperative Fisheries Organization of the International Cooperative Alliance in a Japanese-funded project to provide training in Asian countries regarding community-based fishery resource management (“CBFRM”). The project aims to promote CBFRM by small-scale coastal fishers and their organizations in order to support sustainable production, job opportunities, and poverty alleviation. The project is divided into three phases, whereby: (1) experts visit the selected country to evaluate their CBFRM; (2) then a select group of fishers from that country goes to Japan to study fisheries resource management; and (3) finally, a project workshop is conducted in the selected country. The BOBP-IGO’s role is to prepare the final reports for each of the selected countries. The selected countries are not limited to the BOBP-IGO Member States, as the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia have all participated in the project.


According to Article 18, three years after a Member State becomes a party to the Agreement, it may give notice of its withdrawal from the BOBP-IGO to the Depositary (the FAO Director-General). The withdrawal will take effect twelve months after the notice was received (or on a later day if specified). Even after submitting a notice of withdrawal, any obligations incurred by that Member State remain valid. The Governing Council can also decide, by a three-quarters vote, to disband the BOBP-IGO. In addition, the BOBP-IGO will disband if the number of Member States decreases to three countries – unless the remaining three Member States unanimously agree to continue the BOBP-IGO.


As the BOBP-IGO is focused on the management of coastal small-scale fisheries and does not include all of the countries in the Bay of Bengal region as members, the eight countries in the region (Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand) have also partnered together in the FAO/Global Environment Facility (“GEF”) Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (“BOBLME”) project. The BOBLME project, which is scheduled to occur between May 2008 and April 2013, is designed to address threats to the coastal and marine environment and to promote comprehensive eco-system based management throughout the Bay of Bengal region. In addition, the project aims to strengthen institutional capacity throughout the region and to develop a permanent regional institutional arrangement to continue the work of the BOBLME project. The BOBLME project has total funding of nearly US $31 million – based on a US $12 million grant from GEF, co-financing from Norway, SIDA, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”), and the FAO, and by contributions from the eight participating countries in the Bay of Bengal.

Priority issues for the BOBLME include: (a) the overexploitation of certain marine resources, (b) the degradation of highly productive marine and coastal habitats (such as coral reefs, mangroves and estuaries, and marine grass beds), (c) land-based sources of pollution, (d) vulnerable populations that live in habitats often affected by natural disasters, and (e) overcoming the lack of regional institutional arrangements. Therefore, the objectives of the BOBLME project are to produce: “(i) a finalized Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA); (ii) an agreed Strategic Action Programme (SAP); (iii) the establishment of permanent, partially financially-sustainable institutional arrangements that will support the continued development and broadening of commitment to a regional approach to BOBLME issues; (iv) creation of conditions leading to improved wellbeing of rural fisher communities; (v) support for a number of relevant regional and sub-regional activities; (vi) development of a better understanding of the BOBLME’s large-scale processes and ecological dynamics; (vii) establishment of basin health indicators in the BOBLME; (viii) increased capacity; and (ix) long-term commitment from the BOBLME countries to collaborate in addressing complex situations confirmed through adoption of an agreed institutional collaborative mechanism.”

The BOBLME project has identified three groups of stakeholders: (a) regional stakeholders, such as regional development banks and agencies and international non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”); (b) national stakeholders, such as national and state government agencies, NGOs and other civil society organizations, private sector entities, and academic institutions; and (c) local stakeholders, such as local government agencies, fishermen, rural youth, local environmental NGOs, and other local citizens. The BOBLME project has involved all three groups in project development, including through participation in consultations and workshops, meetings of national task forces, and the development of national reports. The project also encourages ongoing dialogue and relationships with stakeholders during project implementation.

The FAO Fisheries Department, through the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (“RAP”), coordinates the implementation of the BOBLME project. The Regional Operations Branch in RAP is the Budget Holder (“BH”). The FAO is accountable for the timeliness and quality of technical services regarding the project’s execution, while the BH is responsible for administrative functions, including the disbursement of funds. Additionally, the World Bank offers policy support, technical advice, and aid in developing investment opportunities for the country participants. The Project Steering Committee (“PSC”) establishes the annual policies for the project. Each country participant nominates two members of the PSC (generally from the Ministry of Fisheries and the Ministry of the Environments). Representatives of the FAO, the World Bank, and bilateral donors are also members of the PSC. The chair of the PSC rotates annually. A Regional Coordination Unit (“RCU”) acts as secretariat to the PSC, and coordinates work at the national level (through the National Task Force (“NTF”)) and at the regional level. The RCU is also tasked with finalizing the framework for the TDA and the SAP, as well as developing and implementing a monitoring program. A NTF guides the implementation of projects at the national level. NTF members are nominated by the BOBLME countries, and also include representatives from NGOs, civil society, and private sector organizations.

The PSC is also responsible for providing general oversight of the BOBLME project. The PSC provides guidance to the RCU regarding the project’s execution, reviews project outputs for conformity with the guiding documents, and amends and approves the Annual Regional Work Plans (“ARWPs”) for submission to GEF and the FAO. The RCU monitors the project’s outcomes and progress using the adopted results framework. The central mechanisms guiding the work of the BOBLME project are the ARWPs. Every year, the RCU prepares and delivers an ARWP to the PSC. These ARWPs are derived from national work plans, as well as regional activities. The PSC has 45 days to endorse the ARWP. Specific monitoring tasks are also defined in the AWRPs, which may assign these tasks to RCU staff, National Coordinators, or outside consultants. The FAO monitors financial inputs and disbursements, comparing financial disbursements to technical activities planned in the AWRPs.

In addition, the BOBLME project is planning several partnerships with some of the NGOs and international and regional institutions operating in the Bay of Bengal. Potential partners include: the Southeast Asian Fishery Development Centre (SEAFDEC), which has fishery assessment capabilities and capacity building and training resources; the BOBP-IGO, which can facilitate regional meetings; the Network of Aquaculture Centers in Asia-Pacific (NACA), which has experience dealing with coastal-land interaction and managing coastal aquaculture; and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), which has a working committee on fisheries.



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