Climate change poses significant and increasing risks for Pacific Island communities. Sea-level rise, coastal flooding, extreme and variable storm events, fish stock redistribution, coral bleaching, and declines in ecosystem health and productivity threaten the wellbeing, health, safety, and national sovereignty of Pacific Islanders, and small-scale fishers in particular. Fostering the response capacity of small-scale fishing communities will become increasingly important for the Pacific Islands. Challenging decisions and trade-offs emerge when choosing and mobilizing different responses to climate change. The trade-offs inherent in different responses can occur between various exposures, across spatial and temporal scales, among segments of society, various objectives, and evaluative criteria. Here we introduce a typology of potential trade-offs inherent in responses, elaborated through examples from the Pacific. We argue that failure to adequately engage with trade-offs across human responses to climate change can potentially result in unintended consequences or lead to adverse outcomes for human vulnerability to climate change. Conversely, proactively identifying and addressing these trade-offs in decision-making processes will be critical for planning hazard mitigation and preparing island nations, communities, and individuals to anticipate and adapt to change, not only for Pacific Islands, but for coastal communities around the world.