Degraded coral reef ecosystems yield limited goods and services, which is expected to have significant socio-economic impacts on isolated tropical island communities with strong reliance on coral reefs. This study investigates socio-economic changes, specifically in fresh fish consumption and fishing activities, associated with environmental degradation at five fishing grounds (qoliqoli) in the Lau Islands (Fiji). Semi-structured interviews with fishers and senior household members revealed that the importance of fishing was low relative to other occupations, and consumption of fresh fish has declined over the last decade. Reduced fishing and choice of fresh fish is largely attributable to an increased need to derive income as well as new income-generating opportunities. A possible consequence of reduced reliance on marine resources was limited awareness of recent environmental degradation caused by climate-induced coral bleaching and outbreaks of coral-feeding crown-of-thorns starfish. Limited use and reduced awareness of the local marine environment in the short term may erode social memory and local ecological knowledge, reducing opportunities to fall back on marine resources. This may also compromise long-term economic and social stability. Conversely, low reliance on marine resources may confer greater flexibility to adapt to future ecological change in the marine environment. Importantly, changes in fish consumption and exploitation of marine resources were linked to socio-economic factors rather than a consequence of recent degradation of marine environments. Greater knowledge of the dynamics driving change in marine resource use is necessary to understand how societies respond to ecological and socio-economic change, and to identify opportunities for adaptive sustainable ecosystem management.