Since the end of the commercial fur seal hunt in 1984, the economy of the Pribilof Islands, Alaska, has lacked a stable, lasting basis. As a contribution to the effort to understand and promote the effective management of the Pribilof Islands as a social–ecological system, we examined current and recent conditions on the islands to assess local perceptions of, and prospects for, economic, social and environmental well-being. We found few correlations between environmental conditions and socio-economic indicators. The lack of apparent connection between population levels and economic or environmental stimuli is likely attributable to one or more of several factors: (a) modest economic dependence on the environment; (b) predominance of other economic inputs to the economies of the islands; (c) islanders basing residence choices largely on non-economic factors; and (d) the islanders' tolerance for economic fluctuations and uncertainty. These results suggest economic analysis alone is insufficient to explain the dynamics of this social–ecological system, contrary to many other case studies and an expectation of tight coupling and clear connections between society and ecology in the Pribilofs.