Emerging as an innovation for improving the management of overexploited fisheries around the world, rights-based fisheries management systems are being implemented in the form of either species- or area-based management. While there are numerous reviews on species-based management, there have been none on area-based management. To fill this gap, we undertake a critical review of the literature on area-based management systems known as “Territorial Use Rights for Fisheries” (or TURFs). Following an exhaustive search, seventy-nine peer-reviewed journal papers discussing the evolution, effectiveness, enforcement, and management context of TURFs were identified and selected. Review of these papers reveals that there is a growing interest in investigating the real-world effects of TURFs, both positive and negative. The variability in TURF performance appears to be due to design features, enforcement behavior of fishers, and specific contextual conditions, namely, biological fishery characteristics, socio-economic aspects of fishers, and institutional arrangements. The bulk of the published research has focused on theoretical analysis and empirical evidence based on fishers’ perception and experience. And there has been little research on enforcement issues or how design features and management contexts influence performance. This review emphasizes the need for rigorous empirical analyses of TURF effects, including assessment of the cost-effectiveness of different enforcement schemes and the effects of contextual conditions on TURF performance. Addressing current shortcomings in the literature could improve the design, implementation and performance of TURFs worldwide.