Ilish, Hilsha Fish.
Tenualosa ilisha Day.png
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Clupeiformes
Family: Clupeidae
Genus: Tenualosa
T. ilisha
Binomial name
Tenualosa ilisha
  • Clupanodon ilisha Hamilton, 1822
  • Clupea ilisha (Hamilton, 1822)
  • Hilsa ilisha (Hamilton, 1822)
  • Macrura ilisha (Hamilton, 1822)
  • Tenualosa illisha (Hamilton, 1822)
  • Tenualosa illsha (Hamilton, 1822)
  • Clupea palasah Cuvier, 1829

The ilish (Tenualosa ilisha) (Bengali: ইলিশ, romanizediliś; 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[3] and the state fish of West Bengal.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6]

Common names

Other names include: jatka, ilish, ellis, palla fish, hilsha, ilih etc. (Assamese: ইলীহ/ইলীহি: ilih/ilihi, Bengali: ইলিশ, romanizediliś, Gujarati: મોદાર/પાલ્વા: Modar or Palva, Odia: ଇଲିଶି, romanized: iliśi, Sindhī: پلو مڇي pallo machhi, Tamil: உள்ள மீன்/Ulla Meen, Telugu: పులస pulasa). The name ilish is also used in India's Assamese, Bengali and Odia community. In Iraq it is called sboor (صبور). 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).[citation needed] In Myanmar, it is called (ငါးသလောက်) in Burmese which derives from the Mon language word ကသလံက် with က in Mon and ငါး in Burmese meaning fish.[7]

Abundance of Hilsa Fish in Bangladesh
Abundance of Hilsa Fish in Bangladesh
Doi Ilish
Doi Ilish
Ilish Fry
Ilish Fry

Description and habitat

Ilish of Bangladesh
Ilish of Bangladesh

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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Food value

Hilsha roe plays an important role in Bengali cuisine.
Hilsha roe plays an important role in Bengali cuisine.

The fish is popular food amongst the people of South Asia and in the Middle East, but especially with Bengalis, Odias and Andhras.[citation needed]Bengali fish curry is a popular dish made with mustard oil or seed. The Bengalis popularly call this dish Shorshe Ilish.[citation needed] It is very popular in Bengal (Bangladesh and India's West Bengal), as well as in Odisha, Tripura, Assam, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.[citation needed] It is also exported globally.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

In Bangladesh, fish are caught in the Meghna-Jamuna delta,[10] which flows into the Bay of Bengal and Meghna (lower Brahmaputra), and Jamuna rivers.

In India, Rupnarayan (which has the Kolaghater hilsa), Hooghly, Mahanadi,[11] 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.[citation needed]

Ilish is an oily fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids.[12] Recent experiments have shown its beneficial effects in decreasing cholesterol level in rats[13] and insulin level.[14]

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.[citation needed] Ilish roe is also popular as a side dish. Ilish can be cooked in very little oil since the fish itself is very oily.[citation needed]

Ilish in culture

Shorshe Ilish, a dish of smoked ilish with mustard seeds, has been an important part of Bengali cuisine.
Shorshe Ilish, a dish of smoked ilish with mustard seeds, has been an important part of Bengali cuisine.

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.[22][23] 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.[24] 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.[25] 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.[26] Pollution in Indian rivers have worsened the situation, but due to slightly better waters the fishes are found more near Bangladesh delta.[23] Owing to this situation ilish is used as a diplomatic trade item for COVID-19 vaccines too.[27]

See also


  1. ^ Freyhof, J. (2014). "Tenualosa ilisha". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2014: e.T166442A1132697. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2014-1.RLTS.T166442A1132697.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ Al-Khalaf, K.; Alam, S.; Almukhtar, M.; Bishop, J.; Abdulqader, E.; Alghawzi, Q.; Al-Husaini, M.; Hartmann, S.; Kaymaram, F. (2015). "Tenualosa ilisha". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2015: e.T166442A75259795.
  3. ^ a b Webb, Lois Sinaiko; Roten, Lindsay Grace (2009), The Multicultural Cookbook for Students, ABC-CLIO, ISBN 978-0-313-37559-0
  4. ^ "State Fishes of India" (PDF). National Fisheries Development Board, Government of India. Retrieved 25 December 2020.
  5. ^ "Recognition for hilsa". The Daily Star. 8 August 2017. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  6. ^ Siddique, Abu Bakar. "Country's 6th Ilish sanctuary coming soon". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 23 May 2015.
  7. ^ Haswell, J. M. (1874). Grammatical Notes and Vocabulary of the Peguan Language. Rangoon: American Mission Press. p. 31.
  8. ^ Al-Dubakel, A. Y. (2011). "Commercial Fishing and Marketing of Hilsa Shad Tenualosa ilisha (Hamilton-Buchanon, 1822) in Basrah -Southern Iraq". Emirates Journal of Food Agriculture. 23 (2). Archived from the original on 22 May 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  9. ^ "Tenualosa ilisha". FishBase.
  10. ^ "Highway extortion responsible for surge in Ilish prices". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
  11. ^ "Bioinformatics Centre, National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, India". 1 February 2012. Archived from the original on 6 May 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  12. ^ Mohanty, Bimal; Das, Soma; Bhaumik, Utpal; Sharma, Anil (March 2011). "Tenualosa ilisha: A rich source of omega-3 PUFAs" (PDF). Bulletin. Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (171). ISSN 0970-616X.
  13. ^ Banerjee I, Saha S, Dutta J (June 1992). "Comparison of the effects of dietary fish oils with different n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid compositions on plasma and liver lipids in rats". Lipids. 27 (6): 425–8. doi:10.1007/BF02536383. PMID 1630277. S2CID 4033041.
  14. ^ Mahmud I, Hossain A, Hossain S, Hannan A, Ali L, Hashimoto M (2004). "Effects of Hilsa ilisa fish oil on the atherogenic lipid profile and glycaemic status of streptozotocin-treated type 1 diabetic rats". Clin. Exp. Pharmacol. Physiol. 31 (1–2): 76–81. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1681.2004.03953.x. PMID 14756688. S2CID 25883400. Archived from the original on 5 January 2013.
  15. ^ "What the fish! Godavari Pulasa selling for Rs 4,000 per kg". The Times of India. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  16. ^ "Ilish... a love story". dna. 24 May 2014. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
  17. ^ "What the fish! Godavari Pulasa selling for Rs 4,000 per kg". The Times of India. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  18. ^ "Pulasa season starts early". The Times of India. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  19. ^ Khan, M. Hussain (2 April 2019). "The palla, the shrine, the catch and the cook". Dawn.
  20. ^ Karmakar, Kalyan (24 April 2018). "10 Reasons to Get Invited to a Sindhi Household for Dinner". NDTV Food.
  21. ^ Sen, Pritha (9 July 2017). "A fishy fable: If it's monsoon, it must rain hilsas". The Indian Express.
  22. ^ Dasgupta, Reshmi R. (13 August 2012). "Bengalis are loving Ilish to extinction". The Economic Times.
  23. ^ a b "Hilsa Fish: অসুস্থ গঙ্গা থেকে মুখ ফিরিয়ে মায়ানমার পাড়ি দিচ্ছে ইলিশের ঝাঁক". (in Bengali). Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  24. ^ Mazumdar, Jaideep (1 September 2008). "The Last Ilish Curry". Outlook.
  25. ^ Moitra, Kalyan (1 July 2002). "Hilsa may soon become endangered: Experts". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 1 July 2013.
  26. ^ "Bangladesh's Hilsa Fish Acts as Early Warning of Climate Change". Archived from the original on 22 May 2014. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  27. ^ ভ্যাকসিন নেই, তাই ইলিশও নেই! (in Bengali). Deutsche Welle. 22 June 2021. Retrieved 25 September 2021.