Over recent decades there have been significant changes in response to small climatic shifts and based on forecasts of future climate scenarios there is an urgent need to assess species vulnerability so that conservation priorities can be set. So far, vulnerability assessments have largely been based on projected changes in range size derived from the output of species distribution models. One drawback of risk assessment using these models is that they do not incorporate information on species ecological and life history traits. Here, we develop a vulnerability assessment of fish that occur in New South Wales to climate change that considered both species traits, and the projections of modelled distribution. The importance of each trait is then ranked by a panel of experts through an iterative review process. For each species’ we can then determine their relative risk under future climates, as well as identifying the spatial priorities for conservation. The study also considers the potential benefits to each species if man-made barriers to dispersal were removed. By reducing overall reliance on the predictions of models and using available ecological knowledge, this process provides greater justification for funding appropriate adaptation strategies.