TAIPEI, Taiwan - The Council of Agriculture's Forestry Bureau confirmed Sunday that only six of the protected species humphead wrasse are still in the wild on outlying Green Island, after a killing of one of the species by a local bed-and-breakfast owner led to a public outcry, according to multiple reports by the Central News Agency (CNA).
The B&B operator, surnamed Chen, had fished for the endangered species in the past before the humphead wrasse was given "protected" status, but he was released as no laws had been passed at the time to protect the endangered fish or to penalize offenders.
But after Chen recently posted a photo of a slain humphead wrasse on Facebook, the Forestry Service Conservation team, along with Taitung County police officers, began actively pursuing the case, said conservation team leader Kuan Li-hao.
The body of the fish was found in the freezer of Chen's B&B, Kuan stated, though the head and tail were missing as of the time of the report.
The suspect originally denied the allegations, stating that the photo that was posted to social media was "an old one from six to seven years ago," a claim that was refuted by internet users.
Internet users, however, pointed out that remarks made during the Coast Guard Administration's (CGA) inspections "did not add up." CGA officials eventually drew out the truth from Chen and further dashed hopes of the island's locals, who had hoped that the case had been a hoax.
CGA officials later on dug up the remains of the killed humphead wrasse in a plot of land beside Green Island's prison facility.
According to a study carried out by Academia Sinica researcher Jeng Ming-shiou two years ago, which highlighted the perils faced by the protected fish, no young humphead wrasses were found in the waters around Green Island, meaning that the protected species had not reproduced.
Only seven fish were found in the waters at the time the study was conducted and publicized.
Kuan questioned the motives of the suspect, who had claimed that his brother wished to see the size of the famed humphead wrasse. "It's unbelievable. I'm not sure what this suspect was thinking," he said.
Kuan also stressed that researcher Jeng was "extremely angry" after learning of the killing, because in the past few years, Jeng could not find any young offspring of the endangered species for research purposes.
Jeng explained that the humphead wrasse, whose scientific name is "Cheilinus undulatus," is popular among divers. Capturing and killing the fish is equivalent to "killing off the local tourism."
According to the Wildlife Conversation Act Article 18, protected wildlife should be conserved and should not be disturbed, abused, hunted or killed. Violators will be punished with imprisonment for no less than six months, and not more than five years and/or given a fine of no less than NT$200,000 and no more than NT$1,000,000.