Purpose – Hong Kong's largely unregulated fisheries are in a state of biological and economic decline. The government has proposed new fisheries management regulations which will likely restrict fishing effort. Thus, the purpose of this study is to investigate: fishers' willingness and capacity to switch to alternative jobs or livelihoods; and the feasibility of the marine recreation sector to provide alternative employment options for fishers. Design/methodology/approach – The authors conducted interviews to find out about perceptions and attitudes towards the proposed management regulations, and alternative livelihood options for fishers. They interviewed participants in the fisheries sector (mainly fishers) and the marine recreation sector. A questionnaire was also mailed or faxed to marine recreation businesses throughout Hong Kong. Findings – It was found that up to 75 per cent of fishers interviewed were generally willing to leave the fishery if they were provided with adequate compensation, but they were not optimistic about finding suitable jobs due to their limited skills and education. About 55 per cent of marine recreation respondents said they would consider hiring fishers; however, there were unlikely to be sufficient jobs for all the potentially displaced fishers. Hence, fishers have to look outside the marine sector for alternative livelihoods. Practical implications – The results highlight that a sizable portion of fishers are willing to depart from “their way of life” under the right conditions. This indicates that, the government can help restore Hong Kong's fisheries and fisher livelihoods by providing appropriate training and designing acceptable compensation packages for fishers. Originality/value – The study reported in this paper is significant because it shows that fishing is no longer economically profitable for Hong Kong's fishers, a situation which can largely be attributed to the lack of fisheries management in Hong Kong, which has dissipated biological and economic productivity of the fisheries' resources.