App developers hope to end trade in endangered napoleon wrasse in Hong Kong

Published on
August 4, 2021
A napoleon wrasse, also known as a humphead wrasse.

A new app using facial recognition technology has launched in a trial phase in Hong Kong to help eradicate illegal trade in endangered napoleon wrasse.

Launched by the Swire Institute of Marine Science at the University of Hong Kong, the facial recognition app, called “Saving Face,” was developed by Corvidae, a company which originated as a start-up at the university. The developers called the app “an exciting new initiative developed in support of legal trade in the threatened napoleon wrasse to conserve this beautiful fish.”

“[The app] allows for identification of individual napoleon fish, which will help determine the legality of fish being sold in the city,” the company said in a statement to SeafoodSource. “This should help to encourage legal trade and discourage illegal trade by the tracking of known individuals over time, which, in turn, supports conservation of the species, because legally imported wild fish are documented.”

Hong Kong has long been a hub for the illegal trade in reef fish like napoleon wrasse, also known as the humphead wrasse, a species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The wrasse has become an expensive offering in the city’s dining and seafood market scenes, both for local consumption and for transshipment into mainland China.

Each napoleon wrasse has individually distinctive facial markings, and Corvidae said in its statement it hopes the app’s users will take photos of the wrasse they see offered for sale.

The app is now available for Android devices and a version compatible with Apple devices is in the works. Corvidae is asking for feedback from users on how to improve the app in future versions.

“[Feedback] would provide us with important information on how useful this approach to tracking this species in Hong Kong may be,” the developers said.

Photo courtesy of Yacob Hay Yacobi/Shutterstock

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