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A community group was formed to consider establishing marine reserves within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in southern California. Membership included representatives from resource agencies, environmental organizations, commercial and recreational fishing interests, and the general public. While the group agreed on several areas for fishing closures, members could not reach consensus on a specific network design. Several factors interfered with the group's effort in attaining agreement resulting in the endeavor subsequently being replaced by a "top-down" approach that lacks the support of the fishing community. Lessons learned from the project emphasize the need by marine protected area participants to recognize irreconcilable impasses early in the process and to seek solutions to maneuver around them. The importance of keeping the fishing community fully engaged is discussed.