Coastal marine ecosystems provide livelihoods for small-scale fishers and coastal communities around the world. Small-scale fisheries face great challenges since they are difficult to monitor, enforce, and manage, which may lead to overexploitation. Combining territorial use rights for fisheries (TURF) with no-take marine reserves to create TURF-reserves can improve the performance of small-scale fisheries by buffering fisheries from environmental variability and management errors, while ensuring that fishers reap the benefits of conservation investments. Since 2012, 18 old and new community-based Mexican TURF-reserves gained legal recognition thanks to a regulation passed in 2012; their effectiveness has not been formally evaluated. We combine causal inference techniques and the Social-Ecological Systems framework to provide a holistic evaluation of community-based TURF-reserves in three coastal communities in Mexico. We find that, overall, reserves have not yet achieved their stated goals of increasing the density of lobster and other benthic invertebrates, nor increasing lobster catches. A lack of clear ecological and socioeconomic effects likely results from a combination of factors. First, some of these reserves might be too young for the effects to show (reserves were 6–10 years old). Second, the reserves are not large enough to protect mobile species, like lobster. Third, variable and extreme oceanographic conditions have impacted harvested populations. Fourth, local fisheries are already well managed, and while reserves may protect populations within its boundaries, it is unlikely that reserves might have a detectable effect in catches. However, even small reserves are expected to provide benefits for sedentary invertebrates over longer time frames, with continued protection. These reserves may provide a foundation for establishing additional, larger marine reserves needed to effectively conserve mobile species.