A recent synthesis of over 400 recovery and restoration projects suggests that recovery of ecosystems rarely occurs in full. Are we failing in our attempts to manage and conserve ecosystems or is recovery really a moving target? Using a case study in Haida Gwaii, I will describe major shifts in population and community dynamics governing a prolonged recovery of forage fish ecosystems in the North Pacific. The unique dynamics occurring now highlight the limitations of assuming ecological systems always have the capacity for rapid regeneration and provisioning of ecosystem services following disturbance. Sustainable management of common-pool resources operating at fine scales may require place-based solutions that match institutional and ecological scales. As we consider the utility of current and future strategies for management, acknowledging the complex and adaptive nature of ecosystems will improve our capacity to achieve sustainable solutions for the food web, fisheries, and cultures dependent upon natural resources.