River discharge has long been recognized as one of the factors that contributes to the high productivity of estuaries. Although there is little evidence that river inputs of terrestrial carbon make a direct contribution to coastal food webs, such exported nutrients may stimulate in situ production in estuaries and thus enhance the survivorship and growth of fish and crustaceans in these systems. Furthermore, fluctuations in salinity and turbidity may influence the extent of available habitat for fish and crustaceans and therefore their distribution and/or catchability. Despite these potential links between flow and the secondary production of estuaries and coastal waters, there is still a common perception that ‘water going to sea is wasted’ and a continuing trend to regulate the flow of rivers. We review the evidence for links between river flow and the productivity of estuarine/coastal fisheries, drawing on a case study of the Logan River in southeast Queensland, and explore the potential mechanisms for these linkages. Our research, and that of others, confirms that high river discharge can have a strong positive effect on the production of commercial and recreational coastal fisheries. It also shows that the seasonal pattern of flow is equally, if not more important, than the magnitude of flow. River regulation is likely to have a dramatic effect on the production of coastal fisheries and, given the current pressures for water resource development, this is an important avenue for future research and evaluation.