Abstract This study focused on the Kapenta fishing industry at Lake Kariba to illustrate that variations in economic situation, and in biophysical attributes of the resource users, make it difficult to institute collective conformity with fishery management regulations. The paper discusses how the Kapenta fishing companies in the Lake Kariba region have differing preferences regarding fishery resource management, and assign different priorities to various objectives of the resource management. The differences in personal objectives regarding management of the fishery resources, and the differences in the degree of control and access over the fishery, led to situations where users had varying incentive structures. The differences in incentive structures lead to fishery management regulations based on the average characteristics of users and the biophysical environment, fuelling conflicts between fishery resource managers and users. The variations of micro-biophysical attributes of the resource, combined with the behaviour of the resource users, make it difficult to bring resource users together for developing and initiating collective action.