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Hilsa — National Fish of Bangladesh

Hilsa (ilish) any of the mem­bers of the genus Ten­u­alosa of the fam­ily Clu­pei­dae, order Clu­peiformes. Locally known as Ilish, the fish has been des­ig­nated as the national fish of Bangladesh. The body is strongly com­pressed and mod­er­ately deep with dor­sal and ven­tral pro­file equally con­vex. The upper jaw has a dis­tinct median notch. Reg­u­larly arranged medium-​sized scales cover the metal­lic silver-​coloured body. Body length may reach up to 60 cm, but com­monly found spec­i­mens mea­sure 35 to 40 cm. A large-​sized hilsa weighs about 2.5 kg. Females grow faster, and are usu­ally larger than males. The hilsa is known to be a fast swim­mer, and attains matu­rity in one to two years.
Hilsa has a wide range of dis­tri­b­u­tion and occurs in marine, estu­ar­ine and river­ine envi­ron­ments. The fish is found in the Per­sian Gulf, Red Sea, Ara­bian Sea, Bay of Ben­gal, Viet­nam Sea and China Sea. The river­ine habi­tat cov­ers the Satil Arab, and the Tigris and Euphrates of Iran and Iraq, the Indus of Pak­istan, the rivers of East­ern and West­ern India, the Irrawaddy of Myan­mar, and the Padma, Jamuna, Meghna, Kar­na­fully and other coastal rivers of Bangladesh.

The fish is anadro­mous, with a life cycle that fol­lows the gen­eral pat­tern of breed­ing upstream in fresh water and the lar­vae hatch­ing from the free-​floating eggs. The imma­ture young stages grow in river chan­nels and then descend to the sea for a period of feed­ing and growth before return­ing to the rivers as mature breed­ing adults to com­plete the cycle. The hilsa is a highly fecund fish. A large-​sized female may pro­duce up to 2 mil­lion eggs. Although hilsas spawn more or less through­out the year, they have a minor spawn­ing sea­son dur­ing February-​March and a major sea­son in September-​October. Imma­ture hilsa fish (610 cm), known as jatka, are exten­sively caught dur­ing their sea­ward migra­tion in some of the major rivers of the coun­try.
Hilsa is pri­mar­ily a plank­ton feeder and its food includes blue-​green algae, diatoms, desmids, cope­pods, clado­cera, rotifers, etc. The feed­ing habit may vary accord­ing to the sea­son and age of the fish.

Nearly 16.4% of the country’s total fish pro­duc­tion is con­tributed by this fish­ery. In terms of pro­duc­tion and quan­tity exported, hilsa has played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the econ­omy of Bangladesh in recent years. It is esti­mated that about 2 mil­lion fish­er­men and traders are engaged in hilsa fish­ing in the country.