This schooling, yellow-and-blue, foot-long fish is the most common fish on Hawaiian coral reefs, and it is an immigrant from the Marquesas Islands!
I wish there would have been fish-immigration laws back in 1953 when the Hawaii territorial government brought the fish to Hawaii, as they have become so common now they are crowding out the native fish.
It is common to see large schools of these snappers, and it was hoped when they were introduced that they would add an additional food source for the growing Hawaiian population. It turned out that the ta‘ape sometimes have a fish poison in their flesh called ciguatera.
If one eats a ta‘ape that contains a high concentration of ciguatera that person could land in serious condition in the hospital. Ciguatera is a neurotoxin found in certain marine algae species that is natural out on our coral reefs, but certain fish species seem to retain the toxin, where it builds up as the fish grows older.
Due to the possibility of the ta‘ape making someone sick, fishermen stopped catching them, and their number exploded! This is causing a real danger to the future of Hawaiian coral reefs because the blue-striped snapper is a predator, and it competes for food with the native fish.
On a one-hour-long scuba dive in Hanalei Bay I shot video of over 1,000 ta‘ape and only 20 native fish! This is very concerning. The ta‘ape will even follow certain goatfish species like the kumu that hunts for small crabs and shrimp that live in the sand. When the kumu digs up a shrimp to eat the ta‘ape zoom in and try to steal it!
From time to time we have spearfishing contest called “Roi Roundups” where local divers spear the ta‘ape and also the roi, which is another introduced species that is damaging our native fish populations.
During the last Roi Roundup we had at Anini Beach Park the locals speared over 400 ta‘ape in one day! We used the fish to make organic fertilizer that is needed to grow Kauai crops.
You can see ta‘ape in action in the movie “The World’s Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fish” on the web at www.underwater2web.com, and snorkel with the ta‘ape in person in the Coral Reef Kids Camp sponsored by Reef Guardians Hawaii nonprofit at www.reefguardianshawaii.org.
Terry Lilley, a marine biologist and Hanalei resident, has the websites underwater2web.com and gofundme.com/5urrm4zw.
Source: The Garden Island