Global commitments prioritize protection of wildlife and improvements to human wellbeing. Local disconnects in these commitments are rarely acknowledged—or their implications assessed—preventing the development of effective solutions. National and international efforts to protect marine mammals along South America's west coast have contributed to species recovery, but also to conflict between sea lions and small-scale fisheries. To understand the concerns ultimately motivating this conflict, we assessed how 301 coastal small-scale fishers perceive their interactions with South American sea lions (Otaria flavescens). We then reviewed the terrestrial human–wildlife literature to identify potential management solutions to resolve the conflict. We find that fishers are chiefly concerned with increases in sea lion populations, perceive that sea lion interactions have significantly increased over the past 80 years, and report sea lion-driven catch and income losses of ≥26%. We propose solutions to manage conflict that are sensitive to heterogeneity among fisher groups.