An important contemporary driver of livelihood change in coastal Southeast Asia is the growing demand for luxury seafood in China. Based on fieldwork in the municipality of Balabac in Palawan province, western Philippines, this paper takes stock of this trend, and investigates the implications of the relationship between Chinese patterns of luxury seafood consumption and the intensification of coastal livelihoods in Southeast Asia. The paper focuses mostly on the trade in live reef fish, with reference also to sea cucumber and shark fin. In the light of recent discussions of social and environmental change in Southeast Asia, the paper addresses how the intensification of coastal livelihoods has manifested in important trends, including an increasing reliance on high-value commodity fisheries such as the trade in luxury seafood. Important consequences of this intensification of coastal livelihoods include environmental degradation, and social change due to the development of broader trading networks. The paper argues that the live reef fish for food trade is an important contemporary livelihood that highlights the ways in which Chinese consumption is having diverse social and environmental consequences for source countries in Southeast Asia.