Aquatic ecosystems and specifically the freshwater therein, provide several ecosystem benefits including provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural services. These benefits are substantial but are not partitioned equally or equitably among the various stakeholders. Demand for freshwater is expected to double by 2050; the inland fisheries sector is in competition with other users of freshwater and will need to demonstrate the value of freshwater and its fisheries to ensure appropriate policies to manage inland aquatic ecosystems.

I have examined published material to estimate the value of water to industry, domestic, agriculture, and fisheries users. Although the estimates are extremely rough, there are differences of many orders of magnitude in the value of freshwater depending on what it is used for. For example:

  • Inland fisheries harvested in 2016 ∼ 10.2 million t worth US$5.5 billion

  • Inland aquaculture produced in 2016 33.8 million t worth US$61.1 billion

  • 45,000 large dams generated 20 percent of world electricity worth US$5.7 trillion

  • Large dams irrigated 100 million ha of land worth US$665 billion

The large values associated with water use by non-fisheries sectors are often not realized by the fisheries, sector, but need to be in policy negotiations. The large differences in dollar value between inland fisheries’ products and the other users of freshwater do not reflect the true value of inland fisheries in terms of nutrition, food security, and cultural values for many stakeholders. Those values are difficult to determine, and the stakeholders are often rural communities in developing countries whose needs are not often addressed. As reflected in the Rome Declaration: Ten steps to responsible inland fisheries, efforts must be made to engage other users of freshwater and accurately value the services provided by freshwater ecosystems. Examples of specific benefits derived from freshwater fish are provided to help develop a robust valuation system for these ecosystem services. Inland fisheries will never produce the number of pounds of product produced from irrigated farmland, or surpass the value of electricity from hydropower, but crops and electricity do not have the nutritional value of fish. Therefore, elements of a more robust value system and framework are proposed that acknowledges the other uses of freshwater and addresses the social and cultural needs of communities that depend on inland fisheries for their livelihood.

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