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What is a Milkfish?

Alex Tree
Alex Tree

A milkfish is a toothless fish that is regularly farmed and eaten in southeast Asia. It is scientifically known as Chanos chanos and is the only surviving milkfish in the world; about half a dozen other milkfish across multiple genera are believed to be extinct. Normally, the fish is an olive-green color with silver-colored flanks and a small mouth. They are believed to be capable of living up to 15 years old, though farmed fish do not usually live this long. This fish has been farmed since the early 1400s and remains a thriving market in Asian countries.

Milkfish can grow anywhere from 3 to 6 feet (0.9 to 1.8 m), though the former is more common. Their bodies, normally averaging about 10 pounds (4.6 kg), are typically a pale olive green with silvery sides. Its body is often described as smooth and streamlined. When farmed, the fish may be much smaller than the fish found in the open sea due to their shorter life.

A milkfish is a toothless fish that is regularly farmed and eaten in southeast Asia.
A milkfish is a toothless fish that is regularly farmed and eaten in southeast Asia.

This type of fish travels in groups called schools and breeds close to the shore. Young milkfish tend to stay near the shore because they prefer water with less salt content, while the adults return to deeper waters. Even with massive popularity across many countries, this fish is abundant and not considered endangered at all.

The main significance that milkfish have to human society is based on their use as a food source. These fish are very heavily eaten and farmed by the people of many Asian and oceanic countries and are even regarded as the national fish of the Philippines. One possible reason why this fish sustained popularity for a while is that it is possessed of a fairly small head. Unlike some other types of fish, a very small portion of its body mass is made up of its head; thus pound for pound it offers a large amount of edible meat. Over the past few centuries, the popularity of this fish as foodstuff has increased at a steady pace.

Looking to the future, however, some people have expressed concern that even in its traditional markets the younger generations may lose appetite for the milkfish due to the bony textures of its meat. Perhaps because of these marketing concerns, some manufacturers began distributing boneless fish that are sold after additional processing. The Philippines was the first locale where the sale of these boneless fish started.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Milkfish?

A Milkfish, scientifically known as Chanos chanos, is a tropical marine fish that is the sole member of the family Chanidae. It is a silver-colored fish, renowned for its importance as a food source in Southeast Asian countries. Milkfish are known for their elongated bodies, forked tails, and a distinctive adipose eyelid covering part of their eyes.

Where can Milkfish be found?

Milkfish are primarily found in the warm coastal waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They thrive in tropical marine environments but are also known to enter brackish waters and even freshwater streams. Countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Taiwan have extensive aquaculture operations dedicated to raising Milkfish for consumption.

Why is the Milkfish important in aquaculture?

The Milkfish is a cornerstone of aquaculture in Southeast Asia due to its high demand as a food fish. It has been farmed for centuries, particularly in the Philippines where it is the national fish. Milkfish aquaculture is vital for local economies, providing employment and a source of protein for millions of people.

What does the Milkfish eat?

Milkfish are omnivores with a diet that includes algae, small invertebrates, and plankton. Their feeding habits make them excellent candidates for aquaculture as they do not require high-protein feed, which can be costly. This diet also contributes to their mild, white flesh, which is highly valued in culinary circles.

How is the Milkfish typically prepared and consumed?

Milkfish is a versatile ingredient in many cuisines and can be prepared in various ways, including grilling, frying, and stewing. In the Philippines, it is often served as "Bangus" and can be found in dishes like Sinigang, a sour soup, or Rellenong Bangus, where the fish is stuffed and fried. Its mild taste and flaky texture make it a popular seafood choice.

Are there any challenges associated with Milkfish farming?

While Milkfish farming is economically significant, it faces challenges such as vulnerability to diseases and environmental impacts like water pollution and habitat destruction. Efforts are being made to improve sustainable practices in Milkfish aquaculture to mitigate these issues, ensuring the industry's longevity and reducing its ecological footprint.

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    • A milkfish is a toothless fish that is regularly farmed and eaten in southeast Asia.
      By: Iryna Volina
      A milkfish is a toothless fish that is regularly farmed and eaten in southeast Asia.