Conflict surrounding commercial fisheries is a common phenomenon when diverse stakeholders are involved. Harvesting reef fish for the global ornamental fish trade has provoked conflict since the late 1970s in the State of Hawaii. Two decades later the state of Hawaii established a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) on the west coast of the island of Hawaii (“West Hawaii”) to protect and enhance the fish resources and alleviate conflict between stakeholders, principally between commercial dive tour operators and aquarium fishers. The perceptions held by these stakeholders on West Hawaii and Maui were evaluated to understand how MPAs influenced conflict dimensions, as the former location had a well-established MPA network designed to alleviate conflict, while the latter did not. This was accomplished by analyzing the following questions: (1) perceptions about the effectiveness of MPAs to alleviate conflict and enhance reef fish; (2) perceived group encounters and threats to coral reefs; (3) willingness to encourage fishing; and (4) value orientations toward the aquarium fish trade. The results indicate the MPAs in West Hawaii were moderately effective for alleviating conflict, encounters between stakeholders occurred on both islands, dive operators strongly opposed commercial fishing and perceived aquarium fishing as a serious threat to the coral reef ecosystem, and polarized value orientations toward the aquarium fish trade confirms pervasive social values conflict. The conflict between these groups was also asymmetrical. MPAs are inadequate for resolving long term conflict between groups who hold highly dissimilar value orientations toward the use of marine resources. Future marine spatial planning and MPA setting processes should include stakeholder value and conflict assessments to avoid and manage tensions between competing user groups.
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