Adaptive comanagement (ACM) is often suggested as a way of handling the modern challenges of environmental governance, which include uncertainty and complexity. ACM is a novel combination of the learning dimension of adaptive management and the linkage dimension of comanagement. As has been suggested, there is a need for more insight on enabling policy environments for ACM success and failure. Picking up on this agenda we provide a case study of the world famous Venice lagoon in Italy. We address the following questions: first, to what extent are four institutional prescriptions typically associated with ACM currently practiced in the Venice system? Second, to what extent is learning taking place in the Venice system? Third, how is learning related to the implementation or nonimplementation of the prescriptions of ACM in the Venice system? Our analysis is based on interviews with stakeholders, participatory observation, and archive data. This paper demonstrates that the prescriptions of ACM are hardly followed in the Venice lagoon, but some levels of cognitive learning do take place, albeit very much within established management paradigms. Normative and relational learning are much rarer and when they do occur, they seem to have a relatively opportunistic reason. We propose that in particular the low levels of collaboration, because the governance system was deliberately set up in a hierarchical and mono-centric way, and the limited possibilities for stakeholder participation are implicated in this finding because they cause low levels of social capital and an incapacity to handle disagreements and uncertainty very well. © 2012 by the author(s).