(F. Hamilton, 1822)
Other names include: palla fish, hilsha, ellis, ilish, Bengali: ইলিশ: ilish, Oriya: ଇଲିଶି: ilishii, Sindhī: پلو مڇي pallu machhi, Telugu: పులస: pulasa or polasa. The ilish word is also used 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 and the English word is hilsa.
Description and habitat
The fish is marine; freshwater; brackish; pelagic-neritic; anadromous ; depth range ? - 200 m. Within a tropical range; 34°N - 5°N, 42°E - 97°E in marine and freshwater. It can grow up to 60 cm in length with weights of up to 3 kg. It is found in rivers and estuaries in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma and the Persian Gulf area where it can be found in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in and around Iran and Iraq. It has no dorsal spines but 18 - 21 Dorsal soft rays and anal soft rays. The belly has 30 to 33 scutes. There is a distinct median notch in upper jaw. Gill rakers fine and numerous, about 100 to 250 on lower part of arch and the fins are hyaline. The fish shows a dark blotch behind gill opening, followed by a series of small spots along the flank in juveniles. Color in life, silver shot with gold and purple. The species filter feeds on plankton and by grubbing muddy bottoms. The fish schools in coastal waters and ascends up the rivers (anadromous)for around 50 – 100 km to spawn during the South West monsoons (June to September) and also in January to March . The young fish returning to the sea are known in Bangladesh as jatka, which includes any hilsa fish up to 9 inches long.
The fish is popular food amongst the people of South Asia and in the Middle East, but especially with Bengalis, and it is the national fish of Bangladesh. Bengali fish curry is a popular dish made with mustard oil or seed. It is also popular in India, especially West Bengal, Odisha, Tripura, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Southern Gujarat and in Mizoram and it is also exported globally.
In North America (where ilish is not always readily available) other shad fish are sometimes used as an ilish substitute, especially in Bengali cuisine. This typically occurs near the East coast of North America, where fresh shad fish having similar taste can be found.
In Bangladesh, fish are caught in the Padma-Meghna-Jamuna delta, which flows into the Bay of Bengal and Meghna (lower Brahmaputra), and Jamuna rivers. In India, the Rupnarayan (which has the Kolaghater Ilish), Ganges, Mahanadi, Chilka Lake, Narmada and Godavari rivers are also famous. They are also caught in the sea, but some consider the marine stage of the fish as not so tasty. The fish has very sharp and tough bones, making it problematic to eat for some.
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.
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Ilish in culture
In Odisha there is a popular saying that "Machha khaaiba Ilishii, chakiri kariba polisi", which means that eating hilsa and getting a job in police department are of equal status, meaning that eating hilsa is respectable.
In Andhra Pradesh, the saying goes "Pustelu ammi ayina Pulasa tinocchu", meaning It's worth eating Pulasa/Hilsa by even selling the nuptials.
In pohela boisakh (the first day of the Bangali New Year),it is customary to have ilish with panta bhat (watery rice left overnignt) typically at breakfast. The meal is the traditional way to celebrate the Bangladeshi new year.
In many Bengali Hindu families a pair of ilish fishes (Bengali: Joda Ilish) are bought on auspicious days, for example for special prayers or pujadays like for the Hindu Goddess of music, art and knowledge Saraswati Puja, which takes place in the beginning of Spring or on the day of Lakshmi Puja (The Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity) which takes place in autumn. Some people offer the fish to the goddess Lakshmi, without which the Puja is sometimes thought to be incomplete.
In Bengal Ilish is also used during wedding as Tattwa gift.During Gaye Halud tattwa the family of the Groom presents a pair of Ilish to the family of the Bride. However due to the scarcity of Ilih, nowadays it is replaced by Rohu.
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 Sri Lanka.
Overfishing and possible extinction
The species is over fished now. It is becoming rare to land 3 or 2 kg specimens. There has been a consequent price increases and collapsing populations. In the past ilish were not harvested between Lakshmi Puja and Saraswati Puja due to some informal customs of Bengali Hindus but as disposable incomes grew, wealthier consumers abandoned the old traditions. The paradox is that increasing prices have led to even more over fishing. The advent of finer fishing nets and advanced trawling techniques, and environmental degradation of the rivers, has worsened the situation. Fishermen have been ignoring calls to at least leave the juvenile "jatka" alone to repopulate the species. The fishing of the young jatka is now illegal in many countries. It is thought that some 83,000 seasonal fisherman are employed in catching them (source Daily Star, Bangladesh May 22, 2014) and 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 is heading towards extinction in certain regions.
- 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.
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