A 30-YEAR-OLD reef fish has escaped the dinner tables of Hong Kong. Big Wally the maori wrasse was to be exported live to the territory, or cut up for fillets in North Queensland. But Andrew Plimmer, managing director of live fish exporters Austfish didn't have the heart to send Big Wally on a one-way trip to Hong Kong. He and caring staff at Austfish, Cairns, won permission from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to release Big Wally among his wrasse relatives at Norman Reef. Big Wally, a 40-kilogram hump-headed maori wrasse caught by handline off the coast at Bowen, North Queensland, would have been sold for A$2,500 (HK$14,305). But now, after almost four weeks in captivity, he will be transported to Norman Reef in a fast, advanced dive vessel Seaquest and released. The Great Barrier Reef location has become known for its tame wrasses. Rita Pring, of Austfish, says Big Wally is older than most of the staff. 'He's so old and so beautiful and has so much expression on his face. It brings tears to my eyes thinking of him being able to swim away again. 'He eats from my hand and likes to be patted,' she said. Wrasse can live for up to 80 years - and can grow to over two metres long. Austfish staff have also adopted a barramundi, nicknamed Big George, who like Big Wally has escaped the dinner plate.