Abstract Understanding the behaviour of fishermen is a key ingredient to successful fisheries management. The aggregate behaviour of fishing fleets can be predicted and managed with appropriate incentives. To determine appropriate incentives, we should look to successes to learn what works and what does not. In different fisheries incentive systems have been found to reduce the race-for-fish and make fisheries profitable, to stimulate stock rebuilding, to reduce bycatch, and to provide for reductions in illegal fishing. Yet, success can be evaluated in many dimensions, but is, in fact, rarely done – per cent overfished seems to be the dominant measure of performance. I evaluate the yield lost due to overfishing in several ecosystems and contrast the situation of North Atlantic cod where considerable yield is lost, to fisheries in New Zealand and the west coast of the USA where lost yield due to overfishing is very small. Much more systematic evaluation of the other aspects of fisheries performance is greatly needed. From examples explored in this paper I conclude that prevention of overfishing can be achieved with strong central governments enforcing conservative catch regulations, but economic success appears to require an appropriate incentive structure.