Small inland fisheries are important to the livelihoods of the poor in Africa, contributing both food security and income to millions of households living near freshwater lakes, reservoirs, rivers and floodplains. These inland fisheries have complex exploitation systems with large numbers of fishers operating in the informal sector. These systems are highly vulnerable to external disturbance, making them extremely difficult to assess and manage. As resilience management is a way to strengthen systems’ ability to absorb perturbations and shocks while coping with uncertainty and risks, it has potential use in managing small fisheries. Recent research conducted on the shores of the Lake Kainji in Nigeria and in the Inner Niger Delta in Mali confirms that, when considered pragmatically, the concept of resilience provides a useful framework to identify and implement appropriate interventions to reduce fishing communities’ vulnerability to shocks and threats. The resilience of a fishery is not exclusively related to the status of the resource. Where fishing communities are especially destitute, interventions need to prioritize communities’ basic needs, thereby allowing them to turn their attention to fishery sustainability.