In many areas, finding alternate livelihoods for fishers has been promoted to alleviate environmental strain but encountered difficulty because of often understudied, multiple roles that fishing fulfills, making job market dynamics easily misunderstood. I use the concept of social adaptation to study both individual adaptive capacities to find alternate work, and the social-structural creation of vulnerability to declining incomes and limited work options outside of fishing in the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Sub-analyses draw from (a) a formal household survey (N=167), (b) open-ended interviews (N=127), (c) participant observation, (d) government surveys and documents (e) and historical narratives. A livelihoods-based analysis of labor mobility shows that those most able to move through fishing were a small minority with tertiary degrees, vertical social ties, or large family and social networks. For the vast majority of active fishers, the ability to leave fishing is weakly explained by individual differences and is more contingent on the changing nature of alternate opportunities. Although people have always transitioned from fishing to tourism, the highest-returning options have clearly constricted with privatization of tour operator rights over time. Combined with increasingly strict conservation governance regimes, today’s fisher social vulnerability is situated in a particular Galápagos context of narrowing adaptive coping strategies and prospects for upward mobility, all the while remaining elevated in economic security above other Ecuadorian regions. Regulatory changes have left a newly created alternate, recreational fishing, out of reach for most fishers. Analysis of these changes shows the intertwined influences between fishing and other industries as fishers negotiate with non-fishing actors for livelihood options. I suggest using regulatory debates to represent an explicitly social feedback loop to more strongly articulate the unclear ways that resilience and complexity frameworks, increasingly applied to Galápagos contexts, conceptualize the development of “alternate stable states”. While some scholars argue that despite tighter controls a more restricted “race for fish” among registered fishers continues to degrade resources, I argue that collectively, the desire and demonstrated multi-year efforts to find other jobs make a lack of alternate work the real culprit behind any race for fish – and its best cure.