The objective of this study is to assess the performance of fishery buybacks so as to determine the conditions under which positive socio-economic outcomes can occur during the process of fisheries adjustments. We do this by conducting a desk top review and supplementing the literature with targeted interviews with experts who have direct knowledge or experience with the implementation of buybacks. We focus on four case studies: Australia, the United States, British Columbia (Canada), and Norway. The outcome of each buyback was assessed in terms of the extent to which it achieved its capacity, economic, ecological, and social objectives. Our results indicate that buybacks can be successful in achieving specific programme objectives, such as reducing fishing capacity and increasing economic profits, at least in the short term. However, none of the buybacks evaluated were a resounding success due to the presence of latent permits or licences, effort creep, and continued reinvestment in the fishery. Enabling conditions for positive social outcomes included a strong economy, accountable leadership, and social assistance programmes tailored to local fishing communities. This study is useful in informing future buyback programmes’ design and implementation.