Small-scale fisheries and aquaculture (SSFA) provide livelihoods for over 100 million people and sustenance for ~1 billion people, particularly in the Global South. Aquatic foods are distributed through diverse supply chains, with the potential to be highly adaptable to stresses and shocks, but face a growing range of threats and adaptive challenges. Contemporary governance assumes homogeneity in SSFA despite the diverse nature of this sector. Here we use SSFA actor profiles to capture the key dimensions and dynamism of SSFA diversity, reviewing contemporary threats and exploring opportunities for the SSFA sector. The heuristic framework can inform adaptive governance actions supporting the diversity and vital roles of SSFA in food systems, and in the health and livelihoods of nutritionally vulnerable people—supporting their viability through appropriate policies whilst fostering equitable and sustainable food systems.