Governance of South China Sea (SCS) fisheries remains weak despite acknowledgement of their widespread overexploitation for the past few decades. This review incorporates unreported fish catches to provide an improved baseline of the current status and societal contribution of SCS marine fisheries, so that the socio-economic and ecological consequences of continued fisheries unsustainability may be understood. Potential fisheries contribution to food and livelihoods include 11-17 million t in fisheries catch and USD 12-22 × 109in fisheries landed value annually in the 2000s, and close to 3 million jobs. However, overfishing has resulted in biodiversity and habitat loss, and altered ecosystem trophic structures to a ‘fished down’ state. The present situation reiterates the urgency for fisheries policies that simultaneously address multiple political, social, economic, and biological dimensions at regional, national, and local scales. Importantly, improved cooperation between SCS nations, particularly in overcoming territorial disputes, is essential for effective regional fisheries governance.