Almost all environmental management comes at an economic cost that may not be borne equitably by all stakeholders. Here, we investigate how heterogeneity in catch and profits among fishers influences the trade‐off among the triple‐bottom‐line objectives of recovering a fish population, maximizing its economic value and distributing restrictions equitably across fishers. As a case‐study, we examine management reform of an ecologically and economically important coral reef fishery operating within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Using a simulation model, we find that total profitability of the fishing industry is 40% lower if recovery plans are equitable when compared to the most economically efficient plan. However, efficient recovery plans were typically highly inequitable because they required some fishers to cease fishing. Equity was defined according to different norms, and the efficiency loss was greatest when catch losses were shared equally across fishers rather than in proportion to their historical catch. We then varied key social, economic and biological parameters to identify cases when equity and efficient recovery would trade‐off most strongly. Recovery plans could be both efficient and equitable when heterogeneity in fisher's catches and individual catch efficiencies was lower. If fishers were homogenous then equitable plans could have maximal economic efficiency. These results emphasize the importance of considering heterogeneity in individual fishers when designing recovery plans. Recovery plans that are inequitable may often fail to gain stakeholder support, so in fisheries with high heterogeneity we should temper our expectations for marked increases in profits.
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