There is clear evidence that marine reserves can be used as effective tools to foster the recovery of disturbed ecosystems. In the Azores, intense exploitation of the patellid limpets Patella candei and P. aspera has led to a rapid decline in their populations and subsequent collapse of the fishery in 1985. In 1993, legislation was passed to protect limpets, including the establishment of limpet protected zones (LPZs) where harvesting was completely prohibited. Outside LPZs, a seasonal fishing closure prohibited the harvesting of limpets from October to May. Here we examine the effect of such measures 16 years after they were put into practice. In each of the 3 years examined, limpet density, biomass and size were generally similar both inside and outside the LPZs. In addition, there were clear signs of exploitation as most individual limpets inside the LPZ were smaller than the legal catch size suggesting that illegal harvesting was taking place. Observations confirmed that illegal harvesting of limpets was common both inside and outside LPZs. Lack of enforcement of regulations is therefore a likely reason for the failure of legislation to protect limpet populations and facilitate stock recovery.