The 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea was expected by many to lead to a drastic redistribution of income from the world's fisheries. This article explores the extent to which this happened by examining the case of the Pacific Islands' tuna industry. The analysis shows that even though these developing countries gained legal jurisdiction over some of the largest tuna stocks in the world, they encountered tremendous obstacles when they attempted to convert those tenure rights into concrete economic gains. Notwithstanding their success in organizing and co-operating amongst themselves, the Pacific Island countries (PICs) were unable to compel the distant water fishing nations to pay them more than a nominal access fee. When the PICs tried instead to develop their own tuna industries, they were disadvantaged by being located at the raw material end of the commodity chain. This case study suggests that a change in property rights is only a starting point for achieving increased equity in a global natural resource industry; not only do the new resource owners have to develop expertise in managing their ‘property’; they also need to develop a good understanding of the organization and operation of these natural resource industries.