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Rivers, lakes, reservoirs, swamps and other wetlands are known as "inland waters". Traditionally, the fish in rivers and lakes were used for food and for local sales or trading. But the nature of inland fisheries is changing. The waters are now often shared with many groups of people who are not involved in fishing. These groups are associated with large projects and industries such as dams, mining and agricultural irrigation schemes. These activities often bring in much more money than fishing activities. However, these projects can pollute and otherwise damage natural environments, including fish habitats, and bring significant change to the life of local residents. Some conservation groups are reacting to increasing environmental damage, and often ask for restrictions to be placed on some or all of the activities that affect rivers. These restrictions sometimes benefit fisheries, but may also limit fishing and, as a result, cause problems for fishing communities.

While there are certain things that should be done to minimize environmental damage and higher amounts of fishing, communities that depend on fishing do not usually have enough influence to determine the way waters are managed. Since governments and developers believe more money comes to an area through non-fishery uses of inland waters, fishers tend to be seen as less important, and their activities are often given lower priority, often the true value of inland fisheries is not known. While everyone living around inland waters, including those engaged in fishing operations, is entitled to have their needs considered, all residents should take responsibility for conserving the natural resources of inland waters.

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