Tenualosa ilisha (ilish, hilsa, hilsa herring "ইলিশ" in Bangla, or hilsa shad) is a species of fish related to the herring, in the Clupeidae family. It is a very popular and sought-after food fish in South Asia. It is Bangladesh's national fish. The fish contributes about 12% of the total fish production and about 1.15% of GDP in Bangladesh. On 6 August 2017 Directorate of Patent, Design and Trademark (DPDT) under the Ministry of Industries, Bangladesh has declared the recognition of Ilish as the product of Bangladesh. 65% of total produced Ilish in the world is produced 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.
Other names include: ilish, ellis, palla fish, hilsha etc. (Bengali: ইলিশ: ilish, Gujarati: મોદાર/પાલ્વા: Modar or Palva, Odia: ଇଲିଶି : ilishi, Sindhī: پلو مڇي pallo machhi, Telugu: 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 terubuk. Due to its unique features of being oily and tender, some Malays call it 'terubuk umno'.
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 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 April . April is the most fertile month for 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 popular food amongst the people of South Asia and in the Middle East, but especially with Bengalis and Odias. Bengali fish curry is a popular dish made with mustard oil or seed. The Bengalis popularly call this dish shorshe ilish. It is also popular in India, especially West Bengal, Odisha, Tripura, Assam, Southern Gujarat, Mizoram 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 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. In Pakistan, fish are caught in the Indus River. 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 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.
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Five types 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.
The species is overfished now. It is becoming rare to land 3 or 2 kg specimens. There have been consequent price increases and collapsing populations. 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 time when the juvenile fish born upstream make their way to the sea during that period. 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 fishermen are employed in catching them 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.
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