In parts of the western Pacific, notably Palau, Fiji, Cook Islands, Yap and Pohnpei, the Humphead wrasse has, or had, strong cultural significance and was formerly only available to higher ranking members of Society. This may partially account for the many different names by which this species is known, often several names in one location, according to colour phase and size. In English the species is mostly commonly referred to as the Humphead, Maori or Napoleon Wrasse.
The Humphead Wrasse is caught in different ways according to its size, whether it is needed alive or dead and depending on local traditions. Smaller individuals may be attracted by bait of cut or living fish and crabs on hook and line or fish traps: special traps are used in the Solomon Islands. Recently, cyanide has been used to extract the fish from among corals if fish are to be maintained alive. Cyanide seems to be particularly widely used where this species was not formerly part of a traditional fishery and the poison is often introduced or supplied by foreign, especially Chinese traders in live reef fish. When the species is not wanted alive, it may be speared, often in its resting places and at night, such as in Palau, Tahiti and Fiji. Overall, Humphead Wrasse is particularly vulnerable to fishers using cyanide and working on compressed air, as well as when taken at night from caves in which they sleep.
While there is some capture for local use, particularly in the western and central Pacific, the Humphead Wrasse is nowadays primarily taken for export as part of the valuable live reef food fish trade (LRFFT) which is centred in SE Asia. All animals in this trade are wild-caught since commercial level hatchery propagation of this species is not yet possible. The major importing countries are China (especially Hong Kong), Taiwan and Singapore. Animals are exported especially from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and from some western Pacific Islands.
Hong Kong is the biggest consumer/transshipment centre for the live seafood market, including for the Humphead Wrasse. Hong Kong re-exports significant but undocumented volumes of Humphead Wrasse into mainland, particularly southern, China, according to traders and to market surveys.