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Ilish (Bengali: ইলিশ Ilish Oriya: ଇଲିଶି Ilishii Sindhī: پلو مڇي Pallu Machhi Telugu: పులస Pulasa or Polasa), also spelled Elish, Tenualosa ilisha, is a popular fish to eat among the people of South Asia. A tropical fish, it is the most popular fish with Bengalis , the national fish of Bangladesh and extremely popular in parts of India such as West Bengal, Odisha, Tripura, Assam and Southern Gujarat. Ilish also can be found in India's Assamese-, Bengali-, Oriya- and Telugu-speaking regions and in Pakistan's Sindh province. In Gujarat it is known as either Modenn or Palva.
Each year a large number of fish are caught in the Padma-Meghna-Jamuna delta, which flows into the Bay of Bengal. It is a sea fish but it lay eggs in large rivers. After being born the young Ilish (known as Jatka) then swim back to the sea. They are caught before they swim to the sea. Ilish is also caught from the sea. However, those caught from the sea are not considered to be as tasty as those caught from the river. The fish is full of tiny bones which require trained eating/hands to handle.
In Southern Gujarat, Bharuch located on the banks of river Narmada is famous for this fish. The fish from Bharuch is in huge demand in Mumbai and is even exported to many foreign countries. The fish in coastal area of Gujarat is known as Modenn if it is female and Palva if it is young male.
As it is anadromous in nature (an uncommon phenomenon in tropical waters), the Ilish lives in the sea for most of its life, but migrates up to 1,200 km inland through rivers in the Indian sub-continent for spawning. Distances of 50–100 km are usually normal in the Bangladesh rivers.
In Bangladesh, Ilish is mainly caught in the Padma (lower Ganges), Meghna (lower Brahmaputra), and Jamuna rivers. Those from the Padma are considered to be the best in taste. In India, the Rupnarayan (which has the Kolaghater Ilish), Ganges, Mahanadi, Chilka Lake, Narmada and Godavari rivers are famous for their tasty breeds. Ilish is also found in the deltaic region of southern Pakistan, in the province of Sindh. Here it is commonly referred to as the Palla fish. The fish was usually found in abundant quantities in the district of Thatta. Recently, however, the lower reaches of the Indus have dried up as water is stored upstream, and the Palla cannot make its journey into the river any more.
In Bengal, ilish can be smoked, fried, steamed, baked in young plantain leaves, prepared with mustard seed paste, curd, Begun (eggplant), different condiments like jira and so on. It is said that people can cook ilish in more than 50 ways. Ilish roe is also popular as a side dish. Ilish can be cooked in very little oil since the fish itself is very oily.
In North America (where Ilish is not always readily available) the shad fish is sometimes used as an Ilish substitute, especially in Bengali cuisine. This typically occurs near the East coast of North America, where fresh shad can be fished. The substitution is possible because of the fairly similar flavour and consistency of these two fish.
Ilish in culture
In pohela boisakh (first day of Bangali new year),it is a custom to have Ilish with panta bhat (watery rice) meal is very popular event in celebrating the upcoming new year in Bangladesh. In many Bengali Hindu families a pair of Ilish fishes (Bengali: Joda Ilish) are bought on special auspicious days, like some pujas. It is considered auspicious to buy two Ilish fishes on the day of Saraswati Puja, which takes place in the beginning of Spring and also on the day of Lakshmi Puja (The Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity) which takes place in autumn. But this custom is prevalent mainly among the Bengali Hindus of former East Bengal, many of whom now live in West Bengal, Barak Valley in Assam and Tripura in India after the Partition of India. Some of them give Ilish fish as an offering to the goddess Lakshmi, without which the Puja is sometimes thought to be incomplete.
In Odisha there is a popular saying that "Machha khaaiba Ilishii, chakiri kariba polisi", which means that eating Ilish and getting a job in Police department are of equal status.
Five type of ilish can be found worldwide. Yearly ilish caught are 5,000,000 ton. Among them, 50%-60% are caught by Bangladesh, 15%-20% are caught by India, Pakistan and rest 5%-10% are caught by Malaysia, Thailand, China, Vietnam and Srilanka.
Overfishing and Possible Extinction
However, the ilish is rapidly becoming an overfished species, leading to a downward spiral of substantial price increases and collapsing populations. In the past Ilish were not harvested between Lakshmi Puja and Saraswati Puja due to informal customs of Bengali Hindus. As disposable incomes have grown with economic advancement, many especially wealthier consumers have largely abandoned this practise. The resulting increase in prices has led to rampant overharvesting that has caused fish stocks to decline markedly in recent years, both in fish size and in catch size. With fewer and fewer fish to catch (and with the advent of finer fishing nets and more advanced trawling techniques), fishermen have been ignoring calls to at least leave the juvenile "jatka" alone to repopulate the species while traders are bidding up the price of the fish to exorbitant levels. Furthermore, the changes brought about by global warming have led to a gradual depletion of the ilish's breeding grounds, reducing populations further. The fish may be getting to the point of being functionally extinct from the Ganges Delta region as a result. While ilish are still available from as far away as India's Gujarat state and Pakistan, Burma, and parts of Southeast Asia, continued price increases is likely to put pressure on those populations as well so long as unscrupulous traders / fishermen and uncaring consumers do not change their behavior.
- Bangladeshi cuisine
- Bengali cuisine
- List of fish in Bangladesh
- Oily fish
- Environmental impact of fishing
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- Tenualosa ilisha.BdFISH
- "Tenualosa ilisha". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 6 June 2006.
- Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2005). "Tenualosa ilisha" in FishBase. November 2005 version.
- More details
- exotic Hilsa recipes
- Ilish Recipes at What An Indian Recipe