Tres Atkins followed his passion and made the biggest bet of his life: He became a commercial fisherman. In 2006, he bought a boat, moved to Galveston, Texas, and began fishing for red snapper. He also unwittingly joined the front lines of one of the most important conservation success stories in recent history-the turnaround of US fisheries. The future looked bleak when Mr. Atkins entered the fishing business. Decades of overfishing had sharply depleted the red snapper population, and attempts to address the problem had led to a tangle of federal regulations, including short fishing seasons and low quotas. That, plus depressed prices, made it hard to make ends meet. Yet a decade later, the Gulf of Mexico red snapper population is rebounding, and Mr. Atkins’s big bet has paid off. Having entered the fishery with a single boat, he now runs one of the largest family-owned fleets in the Gulf of Mexico, along with a wholesale seafood business.His success is part of a larger story. The US has reversed the seemingly intractable downward trend in fish stocks that began in the 1980s. A composite health index of federal fisheries is at an all-time high. American jobs supported by domestic fisheries now number 1.83 million, up 15% since 2011. Not every fishery is thriving. The challenges facing some fishermen, including many small operators in New England, are real. But after years of alarming headlines, a national picture of success is emerging. What fueled the comeback?In 2006, Congress laid the groundwork for a new approach by requiring that limits on the total annual catch be based on the best available science. A year later, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration introduced a new management system in the Gulf red snapper fishery that strengthened monitoring and gave participants the right to harvest a set percentage of the fishery’s total allowable catch. As the stock rebuilt over time, each fisherman’s share of the pie would increase. This gave businessmen an incentive to think about long-term, rather than immediate, profits. People like Mr. Atkins also worked with scientists and conservationists on plans to return the fishery to health. They pushed for a 40% reduction in annual catch limits so the stock could recover. As a result, the fishery has rebounded so strongly that overall, Gulf snapper fishermen can land nearly three times more snapper today than they could in 2008.New research suggests these innovations can have a global impact. Scientists and economists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of Washington and Environmental Defense Fund spent the past two years developing a comprehensive fisheries database. Their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March, shows how secure fishing rights can turn the world’s oceans around. With the right management tools, three-quarters of the world’s fisheries could achieve population and recovery goals within a decade. And while reining in rogue operators fishing illegally on the high seas is critical, coastal fisheries provide most of the world’s seafood and most of its fishing jobs. Substantial gains can be made by giving struggling local fishermen and women an economically driven stewardship incentive-the kind that Tres Atkins and his fellow Gulf fishermen enjoy.Healthy wild-ocean fisheries provide food, jobs and a way of life for countless communities in the US and around the world. Working with fishermen and advancing smart reforms can hand down this precious resource to future generations.