Owing to its vulnerability to fishing pressure, high demand and hence high pressure on the species in many areas, populations of humphead wrasse have declined rapidly where commercial fisheries are involved (specifically American Samoa, Sabah - Malaysia, Fiji, Indonesia).
Even in areas where humphead wrasse is protected, catches have been reduced. For instance, annual catch rates dropped by 50% from 1991 to 1998 in Australia, and sightings of humphead wrasse by dive operators in Queensland were less frequent.
Humphead wrasse is found in the coastal waters of 48 countries and territories, few of which have effective management measures in place to regulate the trade. Lack of capacity in enforcement and shortcomings of national regulations compromise conservation efforts of many range countries.
Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing and trading of this species occurs. For example, in the Philippines, Indonesia and probably eastern Malaysia, illegal harvesting of humphead wrasse with cyanide still occurs; in the Kei Islands of Indonesia, one out of the two ships involved in the export of humphead wrasse did not have the appropriate permits; and in the Maldives, illegal export of humphead wrasse occurs in spite of the export ban.
Humphead wrasse is one of the most valuable fish in the live reef fish trade, and the rarity of this species leads to higher demand and prices of up to US$250-300/kg in China. Although centred in Hong Kong, this trade has spread to southern China and other consumer regions, including Singapore. Of particular concern is that rapid economic growth in mainland China in the near future may further intensify the demand for humphead wrasse throughout the country.
Both mature and juvenile humphead wrasse are harvested for the live reef food fish trade as well as for local consumption; small juveniles (less than 10cm) are collected for the aquarium fish trade which further exacerbates the depletion of the wild population of humphead wrasse.