In developing countries, small-scale fisheries are both a pivotal source of livelihood and essential for the nutritional intake of larger food insecure populations. Distribution networks that move fish from landing sites to coastal and inland consumers offer entry points to address livelihood enhancement and food security objectives of rural development initiatives. To be able to utilize fish distribution networks to address national development targets, a sound understanding of how local systems function and are organized is imperative. Here we present an in-depth examination of a domestic market chain in Timor-Leste that supplies small-pelagic fish to coastal and inland communities. We present the market chain’s different commodity flows and its distributive reach, and show how social organization strongly influences people’s access to fish, by determining availability and affordability. We suggest there is potential to advance Timor-Leste’s food and nutrition security targets by engaging with local influential actors and existing social relations across fish distribution networks. We argue that in addition to developing improvements to fish distribution infrastructure, utilizing existing or locally familiar practices, organization and social capital offers opportunity for long term self-sufficiency. Livelihood and food security improvement initiatives involving natural resource-dependent communities are more likely to succeed if they incorporate rural development perspectives, which frame directly targeted interventions (‘intentional’ development) within broader structural contexts (‘immanent’ development).