Compliance with spatial fishing regulations (e.g., marine protected areas, fishing closures) is one of the most important, yet rarely measured, determinants of ecological recovery. We used aerial observations of recreational fishing events from creel surveys before, during, and after 77 Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) were established in British Columbia, Canada. There was no evidence of a ... [Show full abstract] change in fishing effort in 83% of the RCAs, and effort in five RCAs increased after establishment. Fishing effort in open areas adjacent to the RCAs declined with time and was higher than effort in the RCAs in all 3 years. Next, we used compliance data for 105 RCAs around Vancouver Island to model the drivers of compliance. Compliance was related to the level of fishing effort around the RCA, the size and perimeter-to-area ratio of RCAs, proximity to fishing lodges, and the level of enforcement. Noncompliance in RCAs may be hampering their effectiveness and impeding rockfish recovery. Education and enforcement efforts to reduce fishing effort inside protected areas are critical to the recovery of depleted fish stocks.