Illegal Fishing - Malakea
It was pouring rain on Saturday so my outdoor plans were forfeited for the day, but while driving through Fagaalu I noticed something interesting and beautiful and disappointing. I often see the fish vendors' coolers there and sometimes I stop for a fresh fish. A large and unusual fish put on display caught my eye on this day. I couldn't resist pulling over and having a closer look.
The fish was lovely and fresh. It still showed the colors of a live reef fish. The pouring rain had not yet washed away the mucus that had protected it when it was still living. I measured the fish with my hands and estimated its size at over one hundred centimeters. Its vibrant colors, psychedelic patterns, and odd shape were striking. I lifted it and it certainly weighed over twenty-five pounds. This fish was impressive!
I imagined it chopped into steaks and sliced into fillets, and I imagined that the flavor would be a delicious addition to any feast. I guessed that such a large fish could feed an entire family several times. Then I imagined the fish swimming, lively on the reef's edge as I have seen them before. When I saw the fish dead again I was deeply disappointed. The pouring rain felt like tears of the spirit striking the earth in mourning for the life of this fish.
"Malakea," said the vendor. "...from Tula." I already knew what the fish was. Cheilinus undulatus, also known as the humphead wrasse, maori wrasse, or napolian wrasse in English, and lalafi or tagafa in Samoan. Being a large example, it was a malakea. This fish is historically highly prized for table fare, but has been over fished throughout much of its range. As a result it is an endangered species and is illegal to catch, kill, or sell. Possession is punishable by law.
I am a fisherman. I know the thrill of bringing a large fish to the surface. I know the reward of eating the fish. I understand the self-restraint required to swim by this fish without striking it with the spear. But I would never have killed this fish... not because it's illegal, but because I respect its life and its role on the reef. I value my role as a steward and protector of creation and life, and I know that Malakea are rare in American Samoan waters and they take many years to grow into adults. This fish is more valuable to me and to my entire community when it is living and reproducing; enabling its family to grow to abundance. If we protect this species, it could once again provide a reliable source of protein and income for my family and for yours.
It is illegal and irresponsible to fish, sell, or eat humphead wrasse. Let the malakea live.