For centuries, morphology-based fish identification has been applied without molecular evaluation. Many studies showed that specimens with a similar morphology are frequently found to be quite genetically distinct. One of the fish species that still remains taxonomically problematic is a commercial snapper species, Lutjanus johnii. Because of morphological ambiguities among local fish taxonomists in Malaysia, we examined the ability of the cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene to genetically examine the taxonomic status of L. johnii. A 626-base pair COI region was successfully amplified and aligned with conspecific sequences that were retrieved from GenBank. The phylogenetic tree obtained showed two major clusters; the first cluster consists of L. johnii from Straits of Malacca, Thailand, Australia, and China while the second cluster comprises L. johnii from China and India. The latter group showed sequence divergence greater than 3.5%. After observing this, we suspected that there might be a cryptic species between the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. This is the first molecular report concerning the commercial species of snapper, L. johnii, in Malaysia, which had only gained provisional recognition from morphological examination.