Fisheries have rarely been ‘sustainable’. Rather, fishing has induced serial depletions, long masked by improved technology, geographic expansion and exploitation of previously spurned species lower in the food web. With global catches declining since the late 1980s, continuation of present trends will lead to supply shortfall, for which aquaculture cannot be expected to compensate, and may well exacerbate. Reducing fishing capacity to appropriate levels will require strong reductions of subsidies. Zoning the oceans into unfished marine reserves and areas with limited levels of fishing effort would allow sustainable fisheries, based on resources embedded in functional, diverse ecosystems.