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BHilsa 123 "Hilsa" redirects here. For other uses, see Hilsa (disambiguation).

The ilish (Tenualosa ilisha) (Bengali: ????, romanizedilis; also known as the ilishi, hilsa, hilsa herring or hilsa shad, is a species of fish related to the herring, in the family Clupeidae. It is a very popular and sought-after food fish in the Indian Subcontinent, and is the national fish of Bangladesh and the state fish of West Bengal.

The most famous hilsha fish comes from Chandpur, Bangladesh. The fish contributes about 12% of the total fish production and about 1.15% of GDP in Bangladesh. On 6 August 2017, Department of Patents, Designs and Trademarks under the Ministry of Industries of Bangladesh has declared the recognition of ilish as the product of Bangladesh. As of 2021, 86% of the world's total ilish supply originates in Bangladesh which applied for Geographical indication (GI) in 2004. About 450,000 people are directly involved in the catching of the fish as a large part of their livelihood; around four to five million people are indirectly involved with the trade.

Table of contents
  1. Common names
  2. Description and habitat
  3. Production
  4. Food value
  5. Ilish in culture
  6. Overfishing and possible extinction
  7. See also

Common names

Other names include: jatka, ilish, ellis, palla fish, hilsha, ilih etc. (Assamese: ????/?????: ilih/ilihi, Bengali: ????, romanizedilis, Gujarati: ?????/??????: Modar or Palva, Odia: ?????, romanized: ilisi, Sindhi: ??? ??? pallo machhi, Tamil: ???? ????/Ulla Meen, Telugu: ???? pulasa). The name ilish is also used in India's Assamese, Bengali and Odia community. In Iraq it is called sboor (????). In Malaysia and Indonesia, it is commonly known as terubok. Due to its distinguished features as being oily and tender, some Malays, especially in northern Johore, call it 'terubok umno' (to distinguish it from the toli - which species is rich of tiny bones and not so oily). In Myanmar, it is called (?????????) in Burmese which derives from the Mon language word ?????? with ? in Mon and ??? in Burmese meaning fish.

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 Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Myanmar (also known as Burma) and the Persian Gulf area where it can be found in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in and around Iran and southern 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 the upper jaw. Gill rakers fine and numerous, about 100 to 250 on the lower part of the 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 southwest monsoons (June to September) and also in January to April. April is the most fertile month for the breeding of ilish. The young fish returning to the sea are known in Bangladesh as jatka, which includes any ilish fish up to 9 inches long.


The fish is found in 11 countries: Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Bangladesh is the top hilsa-producing country in the world, followed by Myanmar and then India.

86 percent of the total hilsa catch is taken in Bangladesh. Production has dropped in the other ten hilsa-producing countries; in Bangladesh, however, production reached 517,000 tons in FY 2017-18, up from 279,189 tons in 2006-07, as a result of a strategy implemented by the Bangladeshi government.

Food value

The fish is popular food amongst the people of South Asia and in the Middle East, but especially with Bengalis, Odias and Andhras. Bengali fish curry is a popular dish made with mustard oil or seed. The Bengalis popularly call this dish Shorshe Ilish. It is very popular in Bengal (Bangladesh and India's West Bengal), as well as in Odisha, Tripura, Assam, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. 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 Meghna-Jamuna delta, which flows into the Bay of Bengal and Meghna (lower Brahmaputra), and Jamuna rivers.

In India, Rupnarayan (which has the Kolaghater hilsa), Hooghly, Mahanadi, Narmada and Godavari rivers and the Chilika Lake are famous for their fish yields.

In Pakistan, most hilsa fish are caught in the Indus River Delta in Sindh. 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.

Ilish is an oily fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Recent experiments have shown its beneficial effects in decreasing cholesterol level in rats and insulin level.

In Bengal and Odisha, ilish can be smoked, fried, steamed or baked in young plantain leaves, prepared with mustard seed paste, curd, eggplant, different condiments like jira (cumin) 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.

Ilish in culture

Overfishing and possible extinction

Due to the demand and popularity of this species, overfishing is rampant. Fishes weighing around 2 to 3 kilograms have become rare in India, as even the smaller fish are caught using finer fishing nets as production in Bangladesh have increased. As a consequence of this, prices of the fish have risen. In the past ilish were not harvested between Vijaya Dashami and Saraswati Puja due to some informal customs of Odia and Bengali Hindus as it is the breeding period of the fish. But as disposable incomes grew, wealthier consumers abandoned the old traditions. 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 Bangladesh. This ban however has resulted in a rise in un-employment, as around 83,000 fishermen are unable to pursue their former livelihood for eight months every year. It has also led to the creation of a black market where jatka are sold for exorbitant prices. Furthermore, the changes brought about by global warming have led to a gradual depletion of the ilish's breeding grounds, reducing populations of the fish even further. Pollution in Indian rivers have worsened the situation, but due to slightly better waters the fishes are found more near Bangladesh delta. Owing to this situation ilish is used as a diplomatic trade item for COVID-19 vaccines too.

See also

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