Big Boy in Big Trouble

humphead wrasse by fathomoz

Photo first published in the former Australian Dive magazine: FathomOz (click to link to FathomOz archive blog.

He’s the biggest fish on the reef, but his size doesn’t protect him from avid aquarists who think he looks cool in a fish tank. Nor does it keep him off the menu in East Asia. Among the largest species of reef fish, the humphead wrasse can grow up to six feet long and weigh 400 pounds. Some estimates say they can live 45 to 50 years, but my guess is it will turn out to be much, much longer than that.

These mighty wrasse are captured live in Southeast Asia for both the live seafood trade and the aquarium trade, and their numbers are dwindling.  Because of over fishing and habitat loss, the humphead wrasse is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They’re one of the highest price reef fishes in the world, so people are willing to do some pretty destructive things to catch them. Sometimes poachers will release cyanide in the water or dynamite the reefs to get at them.

Chances are, most of us won’t find humpheaded wrasse on any menus unless we frequent some amazingly ritzy restaurants in China. But, we can make sure the seafood we do eat is not on the IUCN red list of threatened and endangered species and that it’s sustainably harvested by checking with