Individual transferable quota (ITQ) programmes have been incorporated into many marine fisheries management strategies for 30 years, but their implementation and utility remains controversial. This study provides an overview of the global status of ITQ programmes, the reasons they have been adopted and the changes in stock biomass after their implementation. Eighteen countries currently use ITQs to manage several hundred stocks of at least 249 species. ITQs were adopted in these countries for many reasons: overcapitalization, economic gains, safety concerns for fishers and political change. The implementation of ITQs does not translate into consistent changes in stock biomass. Improvements in 12 of 20 stocks after ITQs were introduced suggest that ITQs can be an effective component of fisheries management strategies, but eight of the stocks continued to decline after ITQs were introduced. This suggests that alternative or complementary measures are needed to sustain those fisheries, such as combining ITQs with more effective total allowable catches, better enforcement and monitoring, and implementing aspects of ecosystem-based fisheries management.