Over the past decade conservation groups have put considerable effort into educating consumers and changing patterns of household consumption. Many groups aiming to reduce overfishing and encourage sustainable fishing practices have turned to new market-based tools, including consumer awareness campaigns and seafood certification schemes (e.g. the Marine Stewardship Council) that have been well received by the fishing and fish marketing industries and by the public in many western countries. Here, we review difficulties that may impede further progress, such as consumer confusion, lack of traceability and a lack of demonstrably improved conservation status for the fish that are meant to be protected. Despite these issues, market-based initiatives may have a place in fisheries conservation in raising awareness among consumers and in encouraging suppliers to adopt better practices. We also present several additional avenues for market-based conservation measures that may strengthen or complement current initiatives, such as working higher in the demand chain, connecting seafood security to climate change via life cycle analysis, diverting small fish away from the fishmeal industry into human food markets, and the elimination of fisheries subsidies. Finally, as was done with greenhouse gas emissions, scientists, conservation groups and governments should set seafood consumption targets.