Abstract Socioeconomic characterisation of fishing activities in the Veracruz Reef System National Park was used to develop a management system which balances the community’s livelihood, and the conservation needs of the protected area. A survey was applied to four sectors of the fishing community: the fishers, fishers’ wives, retailers and local population. The survey determined their perceptions about: (1) fishing as a lifestyle; (2) economic alternatives; (3) perspectives about the future; (4) environment; and (5) knowledge of the National Park as a protected area. Fishers devoted an average of 27 years fishing, investing an average of 12 h per day giving a regular income of 15–20 US$. Most interviewed (60%) were full-time fishers, with fishing the only family income source. Fishers are predominately educated to primary school level (64%).The main problem faced by fishers and the communities were economic opportunities but 89% believed that mariculture could be an alternative income source. There was strong ecological awareness, with 75% aware of the decline in fisheries resource and 62% knowing about the role of protected areas. There was divided opinion about future perspectives. Inefficient organisation and communication between authorities and fishers were identified as obstacles to co-management. Discussion on alternative incomes and a proposal involve fishers in co-management initiatives are presented.