ABSTRACT: The ability to transform historical learning into institutional reform is a key to success in the management of common pool natural resources. Based on a model of institutional inertia and a comparative analysis of Northeast Atlantic fisheries management from 1945 to the present, the paper aims to identify drivers and obstacles to learning-based institutional reform. We argue that the ineffectiveness of implementation systems has been a key driver of reform requirements, but that the need for agreement amongst a large number of interdependent decision makers has been an obstacle to required reform. In such situations, distribution systems, especially, tend to become important obstacles to reform. Institutional inertia tends to be reinforced by tacit discourse frames: however, strong tensions between institutional inertia and needs for reform may also create room for innovation. Institutional inertia entails that large-scale management reform tends to be crisis driven.