Globally, small-scale fisheries are influenced by dynamic climate, governance, and market drivers, which present social and ecological challenges and opportunities. It is difficult to manage fisheries adaptively for fluctuating drivers, except to allow participants to shift effort among multiple fisheries. Adapting to changing conditions allows small-scale fishery participants to survive economic and environmental disturbances and benefit from optimal conditions. This study explores the relative influence of large-scale drivers on shifts in effort and outcomes among three closely linked fisheries in Monterey Bay since the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act of 1976. In this region, Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax), northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax), and market squid (Loligo opalescens) fisheries comprise a tightly linked system where shifting focus among fisheries is a key element to adaptive capacity and reduced social and ecological vulnerability. Using a cluster analysis of landings, we identify four modes from 1974 to 2012 that are dominated (i.e., a given species accounting for the plurality of landings) by squid, sardine, anchovy, or lack any dominance, and seven points of transition among these periods. This approach enables us to determine which drivers are associated with each mode and each transition. Overall, we show that market and climate drivers are predominantly attributed to dominance transitions. Model selection of external drivers indicates that governance phases, reflected as perceived abundance, dictate long-term outcomes. Our findings suggest that globally, small-scale fishery managers should consider enabling shifts in effort among fisheries and retaining existing flexibility, as adaptive capacity is a critical determinant for social and ecological resilience.