An improved analytical framework and typology of fishers are provided to improve understanding of the diverse livelihood functions of inland fishing in development policy making. Inland fisheries make an important but often neglected contribution to rural livelihoods in developing countries. A holistic and widely applicable analysis of the possible livelihood functions of such fisheries is presented, focusing on fishing as one activity within diverse livelihoods. Four different livelihood strategies are identified, involving fishing as: (i) a primary livelihood of last resort, (ii) part of a diversified semi-subsistence livelihood, (iii) a specialist occupation and (iv) part of a diversified accumulation strategy. The policy implications of these strategies are found to be differentiated and poorly represented in practice by socio-economic analysis that either undfervalues fisheries or treats them solely as livelihoods of last resort and by traditional approaches to fisheries management centred on stock conservation. The need for a more diverse and flexible range of measures, tailored to local priorities and conditions and ensuring that poor people can access the benefits of inland fisheries whilst achieving conservation objectives, is identified.

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