Fisheries in inland waters have long provided an important source of food for mankind, however, their importance relative to other production systems has been waning over the past decades. Contributing to this diminished importance have been far reaching changes to the aquatic environment arising from human activities such as damming, navigation, wetland reclamation for agriculture, urbanization, water extraction and transfer, and waste disposal. The rising demand world-wide for water and for the services it can provide is placing pressure on all uses of this resource with a corresponding need to rationalize and intensify individual sectors while ensuring their harmonious integration. The multi-purpose nature of use patterns in inland waters creates a very distinct climate for the development and management of fisheries which, in the past century or so, become one use among many and very often one of the least significant in terms of financial yield. Management therefore should to be conducted in a climate of compromise with other users and depends as much on regulations governing their activities as those governing the fishery itself. In other words inland fishery managers are rarely in control of the resource they manage. Because of this the code must be interpreted to inform and involve sectors other than fisheries.
Four current strategies in the use of inland waters for fisheries can be distinguished.
Firstly, food fisheries on wild stocks depending on natural reproduction and fertility continue in most of the larger rivers and lakes of the world. Such fisheries are generally at or exceed the limits of maximum sustainable yield and corresponding shifts in fish community structure are occurring with risks of diminished production and damaged stocks.
Secondly, food fisheries in smaller water bodies in some countries are increasingly being subject to enhancements to raise productivity of selected species above natural levels. This type of management is spreading and the technologies are being adopted by other countries.
Thirdly, recreational fisheries are becoming more common in many areas of the world and, where they develop, tend to supplant commercial food fisheries. Recreational fisheries may contribute to food supply as in many cases they are of a subsistence or artisanal nature.
Fourthly, locally very intense exploitation of juvenile or small adult forms for stocking into other water bodies and aquaculture ponds or for the ornamental fish trade.
Each of these strategies of use requires a somewhat different approach to the code. For example, the first and fourth strategies correspond most closely to those applying in unconstrained marine fisheries in that they do not seek to manipulate the stock other than by removal of fish. Here the provisions of FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries 4 - Fisheries Management should be taken into consideration. Equally, strategy two approaches and sometimes overlaps with aquaculture and here the provisions of FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries 5 - Aquaculture Development are relevant. In general the first and fourth strategy, relying as they do on natural reproduction and productivity, can conform well to the more conservation oriented articles of the Code. However, the other two strategies more closely resemble agriculture in that they deliberately set out to manipulate the population structure and productivity of inland waters in the interests of the goals defined by society for food or recreation. In this great care has to be taken in interpreting the Code. Further aggravating this situation are the impacts of external, non-fishery activities which in many cases constrain the fishery and add to the trend towards non-sustainability. Much of current inland fisheries management is devoted to managing of the environment in an attempt to mitigate such impacts.
While the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries stipulates actions to be taken by States, it is also meant to address persons, interest groups or institutions, public or private, who are involved in, or concerned with, inland fisheries. Government authorities will increasingly have a key role to play in enhancing effective collaboration with and among many players, in order to promote sustainable development, management, conservation or rehabilitation of inland aquatic resources. Responsibilities for the sustainability of inland fisheries development will need to be shared within the sector among government authorities, fishers, processors and traders of inland fishery products, financing institutions, researchers, special interest groups, professional associations, non-governmental organizations, and others. Responsibilities must also be taken by agencies and individuals from outside the sector whose activities impact on the viability and productivity of inland water resources. In this respect inland fisheries are already subject to regulations from organizations or agencies external to the fishery concerning animal rights, land use planning, wildlife conservation, etc.