This article addresses the question of how states can best promote citizens' compliance with laws that regulate livelihoods. Based on ethnographic data from fishing communities in three countries—Norway, Canada, and South Africa—the article compares compliance motivations that exist under different socioeconomic and political conditions. The comparisons give rise to a typology of three compliance motivations: deterrence, moral support for the law's content, and the legislator's authority. This article then identifies three governable preconditions—enforcement, empowerment of citizens, and civic identity—that respectively explain these motivations. The article argues that the compliance discourse in a given type of state must be framed such that it includes at least the governable preconditions for compliance that have not been met in that state. Consequently, a functional compliance strategy would vary between different state types. The article thus questions the transferability of the developed world's compliance discourses to the developing world.