Fisheries provide millions of people with a source of livelihood. Yet across the world, these resources are fast diminishing because of pollution, habitat destruction, overfishing, natural disasters, and climate changes. Traditional approaches to halt this decline focus on regulating against destructive practices, but to little effect. A more effective strategy could be to establish a direct economic incentive mechanism such as payments for ecosystem services, or to incorporate such payments into existing regulatory mechanisms. Examples from terrestrial environments, and a few from aquatic environments, suggest that economic incentive-based mechanisms can work to protect both livelihoods and environments. But to succeed, these schemes must be underpinned by robust research, clear property rights, effective monitoring and compliance, equitable benefit sharing, and sustainable finance. ~~A scheme offering payment for Hilsa conservation in Bangladesh offers a rare example of a direct economic incentive mechanism being used for sustainable fisheries management. Hilsa is one of the most important single-species fisheries in the Bay of Bengal. More than half a million people depend on it for their livelihood and 250 million Bengali people depend on it for nutrition. This study examines how a direct economic incentive mechanism can complement regulatory fisheries management approaches. We explore the merits of the Bangladesh scheme, but argue that its effectiveness could be enhanced by an improved understanding of the complex socioeconomic and ecological systems underpinning the fishery. Such schemes need to accurately identify the beneficiaries of the scheme, design the right compensation packages, and empower local fishing communities to monitor and enforce compliance. Better regional co-operation between the three countries which make up the Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar), will also be vital to the conservation of the Hilsa~fishery.