Humphead Wrasse

Scientific name: Cheilinus undulatus
Fijian name: Varivoce

The humphead wrasse is one of the largest species of fish in the world. It can reach over 2 m in length, and the maximum published weight is a staggering 190 kg. This slow-growing fish reaches sexual maturity at 5 to 7 years. Some adult males develop directly from juvenile males, but other adult males develop from an adult female that undergoes a sex change. Humphead wrasse can live for over thirty years, and they feed on fishes and invertebrates such as molluscs, crustaceans and sea urchins. They are one of the few predators of crown-of-thorns sea stars.

Unfortunately, the humphead wrasse is now listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List as a result of overfishing, particularly through the live reef fish trade (although export of live fish is illegal in Fiji under the Fisheries Act). The species is particularly vulnerable due to its predictable behaviour, slow growth, and high retail price (up to US$130 per kg) for live specimens. The humphead wrasse is now protected under CITES Appendix II, and it is illegal to catch this fish in Fiji under Fiji’s Endangered and Protected Species Act.

WCS-Fiji is currently monitoring frequency of all sightings of humphead wrasse both on and off transects during our coral reef assessments. We are additionally incorporating their habitat requirements into MPA network designs. To boost awareness of the threat to humphead wrasse and other fish species vulnerable to overharvesting, WCS-Fiji has produced fish ruler stickers showing the minimum size at maturity and which fish are particularly threatened in Fiji. We are encouraging fishers to release all fish caught below reproductive size.

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