For generations communities in the Western Pacific have employed a range of resource management techniques (including periodic reef closures, gear restrictions, entry limitations, and the protection of spawning aggregations) to limit marine resource use. Localized control over marine resources, commonly known as customary marine tenure (CMT), is the legal and cultural foundation for many of these practices. Because of their perceived potential to meet both conservation and community goals, these traditional resource management techniques are being revitalized by communities, governments, and NGOs as an integral part of national and regional marine conservation plans in the Pacific. However, the viability of conservation strategies built on a foundation of marine tenure may be in question, as it remains unclear whether marine tenure systems will be able to withstand the profound social and economic changes sweeping the Pacific region. Numerous studies have suggested that changes in marine tenure are attributed to social and economic factors, however, specific relationships between socioeconomic conditions and marine tenure are still not well understood. This paper examines the social and economic characteristics of 21 coastal communities in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, and explores the characteristics of the communities that employ exclusive marine tenure to answer the following questions: Which socioeconomic factors are related to the presence of CMT regimes? How might socioeconomic factors influence the ability of communities to employ or maintain CMT regimes? Distance to market, immigration, dependence on fishing, and conflicts were found to be related to the presence of highly exclusive marine tenure systems. Exploring these relationships will help conservation practitioners better understand how future social changes may influence the foundation of conservation and development projects.