Abstract It is widely assumed that commercial fisheries of highly fecund species are particularly resilient to exploitation, and that, should populations become seriously diminished, economic constraints will force fishing to cease before biological extinction can occur. Indeed, among commercially exploited marine fishes there is not one confirmed global extinction. Here we document, using nonconventional means, a story that not only questions such assumptions but that should also alert us to how little we know about significant fisheries in some parts of the world. Our case study is that of the highly threatened Chinese bahaba, Bahaba taipingensis, a member of the Sciaenidae (the drums or croakers), and an example of a fecund and commercially important group of fishes that appears to be especially vulnerable to fishing. We also demonstrate that the careful use of informal, or traditional, information can provide a powerful, sometimes unique, means of identifying and assessing the status and history of species that might be quietly slipping away before we learn anything about them.