The Gulf of California is undoubtedly the Mexican marine region with the most research and conservation efforts. In addition to overfishing issues, it harbors endemic and Critically Endangered populations of totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) and vaquita (Phocoena sinus). Conservation strategies have varied, but there is a wide recognition of their historic failure to effectively curtail negative human impacts on local ecosystems. A main reason has been a lack of explicit consideration of the economic dynamics and behavior of artisanal fishers. We develop a bioeconomic model that represents a series of past conservation and fisheries management policies, analyzing their empirical results from a simple economic theoretical framework. Results show how counteracting policies, and basic changes to fishing behavior, negate potential benefits to various objectives. Even with wide ecological knowledge and possibly legitimate commitment to sustainable actions from key stakeholders, integrating bioeconomic analyses is essential to understand the outcomes of past policies and generate more effective ones in the future.