The work discussed in this paper relates to the allocation of fishing rights within the Western Cape province of South Africa. Many of these fisheries are under threat through over-exploitation, and yet are a traditional source of livelihood in many communities. We describe a sequence of interventions during which principles and processes of multiple criteria decision analysis (MCDA) formed the framework for structuring the problems, for facilitating group consensus on the decision making process, and for designing a decision support template for use in future allocations. Interactions with community representatives and with the the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism revealed a high degree of consistency in perceptions of the management goals that need to be taken into consideration. These goals could be structured and summarized in the form of an integrated value tree, which in turn formed the basis for a formalized decision support structure that could provide a transparent, coherent and auditable basis for the allocation of fishing rights in a fully goal-directed manner. © 2009 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.