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The National Marine Fisheries Service (Fisheries) has announced that it will review the Humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) for potential listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

WildEarth Guardians submitted a petition to list the wrasse in October 2012. Fisheries’ announcement begins a 12-month status review for the species.

"We’re thrilled to see these gentle giants move closer to the protection they need to survive and thrive," said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. "They should be able to swim freely without fear of poisons or spear-guns."

Humphead wrasses can grow up to 2m/6' in length, weigh up to 190 kg/420 pounds, and live for 25-32 years.

Humphead wrasses are naturally rare and their populations have suffered marked declines, mainly due to fishing and habitat destruction. The wrasse spends most if not all of its life in coral reef habitat; reefs worldwide, especially in the Indo-Pacific region, have experienced major degradation caused by humans.

Reefs are threatened by pollution, sedimentation, and coastal development. Climate change and ocean acidification cause coral bleaching and impede reef growth. Destructive fishing practices also take a toll; coral reefs suffer collateral damage from sodium cyanide and dynamite used to stun fish for capture for the live fish trade.

Humphead wrasses have a high retail value – $60-$120 per kilo – in the live fish trade and are therefore in high demand throughout the Indo-Pacific.

Juveniles, in particular, are taken from the ocean for the live fish trade; they are often maintained in captivity and fed until they attain market size.

Because of their sedentary nature, adults are also easy to hunt in their sleeping places. Spawning aggregations are predictable and easy to target. Given the species slow maturation, small populations, and low reproduction rate, mortality from fishing can rapidly exceed the natural mortality rate.

Listing under the ESA has proven an effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99% of plants and animals listed under the Act persist today.

The law is especially important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA listing.

Listing species with a global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species.

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