Researchers often blame problems in fisheries on the property regime under which a fishery is practiced. Depending on their perspective, researchers locate the cause of problems in either common property or open access regimes. However, because these approaches rely on the assumption of the “economically rational individual,” they obfuscate the specific cultural, political, and economic practices that shape resource use. Analysis of the U.S. Pacific groundfish fishery shows that growth and subsequent problems in this fishery are the result of a state-led fisheries development program implemented through a series of national, regional, and local policies designed to extend sovereign control to include ocean territory. These policies both created a climate of fisheries development and provided the means by which the fishery could grow. This analysis highlights the need to examine historic and geographic specificity to explain resource use, rather than relying upon generalized models that posit a deterministic relationship between property regimes and socioenvironmental outcomes.