Inland fisheries are a vital component in the livelihoods and food security of people throughout the world, as well as contributing huge recreational and economic benefits. These valuable assets are jeopardized by lack of research-based understanding of the impacts of fisheries on inland ecosystems, and similarly the impact of human activities associated with inland waters on fisheries and aquatic biodiversity. To explore this topic, an international workshop was organized in order to examine strategies to incorporate fisheries into ecosystem approaches for management of inland waters. To achieve this goal, a new research agenda is needed that focuses on: quantifying the ecosystem services provided by fresh waters; quantifying the economic, social and nutritional benefits of inland fisheries; improving assessments designed to evaluate fisheries exploitation potential; and examining feedbacks between fisheries, ecosystem productivity and aquatic biodiversity. Accomplishing these objectives will require merging natural and social science approaches to address coupled social–ecological system dynamics.