Aquaculture has a critical role in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals of increasing benefits that low-income and least-developed countries derive from marine resources. Its capacity to deliver these outcomes is challenging, particularly for marginalized groups. This is especially true if the introduction of novel technologies is applied with incomplete understanding of socio-economic and bio-physical contexts. We examined what socio-economic factors affect people’s perceptions of adoption of lobster aquaculture in rural households in Indonesia. We used multiple linear regression with model averaging to test the influence of five capital assets (human, social, natural, physical, and financial), including agency, equity, and household sensitivity, on people’s perceived ability to adopt lobster aquaculture. Agency and sensitivity had the greatest influence on the dependent variable. We then used correlation analysis to develop a heuristic model of potential indirect causal mechanisms affecting people’s perceptions of adoption. Our results point to the existence of a ‘sensitivity trap’, where more sensitive or marginalized households are less likely to engage in new economic opportunities. We emphasize the value of multifaceted programs for improving livelihoods, particularly for poorer, more vulnerable households as one way to support the UN’s commitment to using aquaculture as a pathway to achieving sustainable development.