The European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has failed to deliver on social, economic and ecological goals. This failure is in part the result of a number of social–ecological feedback mechanisms. The policy is currently undergoing reform, with unknown practical outcomes. Here, relatively successful fisheries policies outside the European Union are reviewed. Through interviews and workshops with scientists, managers and other stakeholders, complemented with literature reviews, practices that can create incentives for long-term sustainability are investigated. The focus is on how the provision of clear and trusted scientific evidence can stimulate defensible decisions, in turn creating incentives for compliance, leading to positive social–ecological outcomes. Despite differences between Europe and the investigated case studies, the prospects of an increased regionalization within the European CFP provides the best starting point for implementing best practice identified in this study.