We present a novel method for calculating the opportunity costs to fishers from their displacement by the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs). We used a fishing community in Kubulau District, Fiji to demonstrate this method. We modelled opportunity costs as a function of food fish abundance and probability of catch, based on gear type and market value of species. Count models (including Poisson, negative binomial and two zero-inflated models) were used to predict spatial abundance of preferred target fish species and were validated against field surveys. A profit model was used to investigate the effect of restricted access to transport on costs to fishers. Spatial distributions of fish within the three most frequently sighted food fish families (Acanthuridae, Lutjanidae, Scaridae) varied, with greatest densities of Lutjanidae and Acanthuridae on barrier forereefs and greatest densities of Scaridae on submerged reefs. Modelled opportunity cost indicated that highest costs to fishers arise from restricting access to the barrier forereefs. We included our opportunity cost model in Marxan, a decision support tool used for MPA design, to examine potential MPA configurations for Kubulau District, Fiji Islands. We identified optimum areas for protection in Kubulau with: (a) the current MPA network locked in place; and (b) a clean-slate approach. Our method of modelling opportunity cost gives an unbiased estimate for multiple gear types in a marine environment and can be applied to other regions using existing species data.