To implement ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM), there is a need to comprehensively examine fundamental components of fisheries ecosystems and ascertain the characteristics and strategies facilitating this more systematic approach. Coupled natural and human factors, inherent biological productivities, and systematic governance measures all influence living marine resource (LMR) and socioeconomic status within a given socio-ecological system (SES). Determining the relative prominence of these factors remains a challenge. Examining these facets to determine how much EBFM and wise LMR management occurs is timely and warranted given the many issues facing marine fisheries ecosystems. Here we characterize major United States (U.S.) marine fishery ecosystems by examining these facets and compiling a consistent, multidisciplinary view of these coupled SESs using commonly available, integrated data for each ecosystem. We then examine if major patterns and lessons emerge when comparing across SESs. This work also seeks to elucidate what are the determinants of successful LMR management. Although U.S.-centric, the breadth of the ecosystems explored here are likely globally applicable. Overall, we observed that inherent biological productivity was a major driver determining the level of fisheries biomass, landings, and LMR economic value for a given region, but that human interventions can offset basal production. We observed that good governance could overcome certain ecosystem limitations, and vice versa, especially as tradeoffs within regions have intensified over time. We also found that all U.S. regions are performing well in terms of certain aspects of LMR management, with unique successes and challenges observed in all regions. Although attributes of marine fisheries ecosystems differ among regions, there are commonalities that can be applied and transferred across them. These include having: clear stock status identified; relatively stable but attentive management interventions; clear tracking of broader ecosystem considerations; landings to biomass exploitation rates at typically < 0.1; areal landings at typically < 1 t km2 year−1; ratios of landings relative to primary production at typically < 0.001; and explicit consideration of socio-economic factors directly in management. Integrated, cross-disciplinary perspectives and systematic comparative syntheses such as this one offer insight in determining regionally-specific and overarching approaches for successful LMR management.