Bangus Fish/Milkfish: Profile, Traits, Facts, Size, Nutrition, Diet

bangus fish milkfish

The Bangus fish, also known as the milkfish, bears the scientific name Chanos chanos. This intriguing fish holds the distinction of being the only extant species within the family Chanidae. This uniqueness is quite fascinating, as it indicates that Chanos chanos has no living relatives to share its family lineage. However, the history of the Chanidae family is rich and complex, with no fewer than five extinct genera traced back to the Cretaceous period.  This article will give an overview of Bangus fish or milkfish, why is it called milkfish, nutrition, and bones. Keep reading.

Bangus Fish/Milkfish: Profile, Traits, Facts, Size, Nutrition, Diet

These ancient relatives offer a glimpse into a distant past when the family Chanidae flourished in the world’s oceans. The extinction of these genera underscores the milkfish’s remarkable endurance and adaptability through millennia, surviving drastic changes in the earth’s climate and ecosystems that its relatives could not.

Varied Names Across Regions

The milkfish, or Bangus, is known by a variety of names depending on the region. This fish’s diverse nomenclature highlights its widespread recognition and cultural significance in different parts of the world. In Hawaii, it is called “awa,” a name that rolls off the tongue smoothly and reflects the local linguistic flavor. Meanwhile, in Tahiti, the same fish is known as “ava,” a name similar yet distinct, underscoring the subtle differences in regional dialects. In the Philippines, it is affectionately termed “bangús,” a name that resonates deeply within the Filipino community.

This diversity in names showcases the fish’s broad distribution and the rich tapestry of cultures that have come to appreciate and rely on it. Each name carries with it a story of local traditions, culinary practices, and ecological interactions.

Misconceptions about National Status

In the Philippines, the Bangus fish is widely celebrated and often referred to as the national fish. This belief is so prevalent that many assume it is officially recognized as such. However, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) of the Philippines has clarified that this is not the case. Despite the popular belief, there is no legal basis for the Bangus to be officially designated as the national fish. This clarification by the NCCA highlights a fascinating intersection of cultural identity and legal recognition.

The misconception might stem from the fish’s deep-rooted presence in Filipino culture, cuisine, and livelihoods, leading many to assume an official status. The Bangus holds a special place in the hearts of Filipinos, often featured in traditional dishes and celebrated in local festivals, making the assumption understandable, albeit inaccurate.

Cultural and Culinary Importance

The Bangus fish, or milkfish, holds significant cultural and culinary importance in the regions where it is found. In the Philippines, it is not just a staple food but a symbol of home and tradition. It is often prepared in a variety of ways—grilled, fried, or cooked in soups and stews—showcasing its versatility in the kitchen. The fish is a common sight in local markets, its silver body gleaming under the sun as vendors call out to potential buyers.

In Hawaii and Tahiti, the fish is equally cherished, often featured in traditional dishes that have been passed down through generations. The widespread appreciation of the milkfish speaks volumes about its adaptability and the important role it plays in the diets of many coastal communities. Its mild flavor and firm texture make it a favorite among many, and its nutritional value ensures it remains a vital part of the local diet.

Culinary Importance in Southeast Asia

Milkfish holds significant culinary importance in Southeast Asia and certain Pacific Islands. Despite its reputation for being bony, deboned milkfish, known as “boneless bangús” in the Philippines, has gained popularity in markets and stores. However, many Filipinos continue to enjoy milkfish in various preparations, including cooked dishes and even raw delicacies like kinilaw na bangus, where the fish is marinated in kalamansi juice or vinegar.

Indonesian Culinary Delights

In Indonesia, milkfish is showcased in various dishes, such as bandeng duri lunak from Central and East Java, where the fish is prepared with tender bones, or bandeng presto, where it is pressure-cooked until the bones become soft. Smoked milkfish, known as bandeng asap, is another popular option. Whether fresh or processed, milkfish remains a favored seafood product in Indonesian fishing towns like Juwana and Sidoarjo.

Historical Evolution of Milkfish Aquaculture

Milkfish aquaculture has a rich history, dating back around 800 years in the Philippines before spreading to Indonesia, Taiwan, and beyond into the Pacific. Traditional methods involved restocking ponds with wild fry, resulting in variability in quality and quantity across seasons and regions.

Advancements in Milkfish Aquaculture

In the late 1970s, a significant breakthrough occurred when farmers successfully spawned breeding fish. However, obtaining these breeding fish was challenging, and their egg viability was unreliable. It wasn’t until 1980 that spontaneous spawning was observed in sea cages. These eggs proved sufficient to establish a consistent supply for aquaculture farms, marking a pivotal moment in the development of milkfish aquaculture.

Habitat and Distribution

Milkfish are predominantly inhabitants of tropical offshore marine waters, favoring the areas surrounding islands and continental shelves. They are commonly found at depths ranging from 1 to 30 meters. Additionally, they exhibit a remarkable ability to navigate estuaries and rivers, making occasional forays into these brackish environments. This versatility in habitat preference contributes to their widespread distribution across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Physical Characteristics

The milkfish is known for its elongated, almost compressed body, which gives it a streamlined appearance. Its dorsal fin is singular, complemented by falcate pectoral fins and a large, forked caudal fin. Despite the potential to reach lengths of up to 1.80 meters (5 feet 11 inches), milkfish are typically observed at lengths not exceeding 1 meter (39 inches). They can weigh up to approximately 14 kilograms (31 pounds) and live for up to 15 years. The mouth of the milkfish is small and devoid of teeth, reflecting its herbivorous feeding habits.

Coloration and Fin Characteristics

Milkfish exhibit a distinctive coloration, with olive-green hues dominating their bodies, accompanied by silvery flanks and fins bordered by dark pigmentation. Their dorsal fin typically boasts 13 to 17 delicate rays, while their anal fin features 8 to 10 such rays. The caudal fin, which plays a crucial role in propulsion, is adorned with 31 rays, contributing to the fish’s graceful movement through the water.

Feeding Habits and Behavior

Milkfish, like many other fish species, have a diverse diet consisting primarily of autotrophs, algae, and small invertebrates. Their preference for such food sources aligns with their habitat, often found schooling around coasts and islands adorned with vibrant coral reefs. These underwater ecosystems provide ample food and shelter, making them ideal feeding grounds for milkfish populations.

Life Cycle and Migration Patterns

The life cycle of the milkfish is a fascinating journey that takes them through various habitats as they grow and mature. After hatching, the young fry spend approximately two to three weeks at sea before embarking on a migration journey. During the juvenile stage, they navigate their way to mangrove swamps, estuaries, and sometimes even lakes, seeking refuge and nourishment in these diverse environments. Upon reaching sexual maturity, they return to the sea to spawn and continue the cycle of life.

Reproduction and Spawning

Female milkfish play a pivotal role in the continuation of their species by spawning millions of eggs into saline shallow waters. This spawning activity typically occurs during the evening hours, contributing to the replenishment of milkfish populations. The abundance of eggs ensures the survival of the species, especially in areas where environmental conditions are conducive to successful hatching and larval development.

Habitat and Distribution

Milkfish, scientifically known as Chanos chanos, is the sole species within the Family Chanidae. Its distribution is primarily confined to the low latitude tropics or the subtropical regions of the northern hemisphere. These fish thrive in waters where temperatures exceed 20°C, making their presence notable along continental shelves and around islands. From the Red Sea and South Africa to Hawaii and the Marquesas, and from Japan to Victoria, Australia, milkfish populations flourish in diverse marine environments. They are commonly observed in small to large schools near coasts or around islands, showcasing their well-developed, migratory nature.

Spawning Behavior and Environmental Influence

In their natural habitat, milkfish spawning events are closely tied to the warm months of the year, typically occurring near coral reefs. However, populations near the equator exhibit year-round spawning activity, highlighting the influence of environmental factors on reproductive behavior. These spawning events are crucial for maintaining robust milkfish populations and ensuring the ecological balance of their marine habitats.

Dietary Preferences of Juveniles and Adults

Both juvenile and adult milkfish exhibit a versatile feeding behavior, consuming a wide range of relatively soft and small food items. From microbial mats to detritus, epiphytes, and zooplankton, milkfish demonstrate an opportunistic feeding strategy. Their ability to feed on such diverse prey items allows them to adapt to changing environmental conditions and exploit available food resources efficiently.

Sexual Characteristics and Reproductive Behavior

Milkfish are known to be heterosexual fish, with no reported cases of hermaphroditism. In natural spawning populations, the sex ratio is nearly equal, although there may be a slightly higher proportion of females. Distinguishing between male and female milkfish can be challenging due to the lack of easily identifiable morphological differences. However, the pheromone PGF2a (prostaglandin) has emerged as an effective method for identifying mature male milkfish, aiding in the determination of sex ratios and reproductive studies.

Reproductive Biology and Early Development

The reproductive biology of milkfish is characterized by the release of relatively large numbers of small eggs, ranging from 1.1 to 1.2 millimeters in diameter. These eggs, along with the resulting larvae, are pelagic and remain in the planktonic environment for up to two to three weeks. Following spawning, egg division initiates approximately an hour later, with hatching occurring within 35 to 36 hours after spawning. In the wild, it is believed that eggs are primarily released in deeper oceanic waters and within the outer reef area, providing optimal conditions for larval survival and dispersal.

Migration and Settlement of Older Larvae

As milkfish larvae mature, they embark on a remarkable migration journey, transitioning from offshore environments to coastal wetlands such as mangroves and estuaries. Some may even venture into freshwater lakes. During this juvenile stage, which is crucial for their development, they primarily feed on zooplankton and exhibit a remarkable tolerance for warm waters, thriving in temperatures as high as 32°C.

Bangus fish, milkfish, Chanos chanos

Harvesting and Utilization of Juvenile Milkfish

Once they migrate onshore, juvenile milkfish become vulnerable to harvesting, often caught using fine-mesh nets deployed along sandy beaches and mangrove areas. These young fish, known as ‘fry,’ typically measure between 10 to 17 millimeters in length and are frequently utilized as feedstock in grow-out ponds, pens, and cages for aquaculture purposes.

Habitat Preferences and Return to the Sea

In their natural habitat, juvenile milkfish are commonly found inhabiting mangrove areas, coastal lagoons, and occasionally even freshwater lakes. However, as they outgrow their nursery habitats or approach sexual maturity, they instinctively return to the sea. This cyclical movement ensures the sustainability of milkfish populations and allows for the continuation of their life cycle.

Size, Weight, and Fisheries Importance

Milkfish are known to grow to impressive sizes, with males or unsexed individuals reaching a maximum length of 180 centimeters (SL), while females typically attain lengths of up to 124 centimeters (SL). The largest recorded specimen weighed 14.0 kilograms and lived for 15 years. Despite their potential for substantial growth, milkfish exhibit low resilience, with population doubling times ranging from 4.5 to 14 years.

Commercial and Cultural Significance

The fisheries significance of milkfish is substantial, particularly in the realm of aquaculture, where they are cultivated for commercial purposes. Additionally, milkfish hold cultural significance in Southeast Asia, where they are highly valued as a meal fish and are often incorporated into traditional cuisines. Their versatility as both a food source and bait for sport fishing further underscores their importance in coastal communities and beyond.

Farming Strategies for Milkfish

Fry Rearing: Milkfish fry is reared in various environments, including sea cages, large saline ponds (e.g., Philippines), or concrete tanks (e.g., Indonesia, Taiwan). The fry grows to sexual maturity at different rates depending on the rearing method.

Breeding Cycle and Spawning Induction: Once milkfish reach sexual maturity (around 1.5 kg or 3.3 lb), breeding cycles occur, with millions of eggs produced per cycle. Natural environmental cues primarily induce spawning, although attempts have been made to induce spawning using gonadotropin-releasing hormone analog (GnRH-A).

Hatcheries: Milkfish hatcheries contain a variety of cultures, including rotifers, green algae, and brine shrimp, alongside the target species. Hatchery methods can be intensive or semi-intensive, with semi-intensive methods proving more profitable but requiring higher labor expertise.

Nursery Techniques: Milkfish nurseries vary in density and commercialization across regions like Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Commercial nurseries often have high densities, with methods including pond culture, pen culture, and cage culture.

Culture Methods: Culture methods include shallow and deep pond culture, with shallow ponds prevalent in Indonesia and the Philippines, while deep ponds offer more stable environments and are less susceptible to disease outbreaks. Cage culture occurs in coastal bays, relying on natural food sources or commercially produced feeds.

Harvesting Practices: Harvesting occurs when milkfish reach a certain size and weight, typically between 20–40 cm long or 250–500 g in weight. Partial harvests remove uniformly sized individuals, while total harvests result in a variety of sizes. Forced harvests may occur in response to environmental issues like depleted oxygen levels due to algal blooms.

Health Management: Milkfish farming faces potential challenges from parasites like nematodes, copepods, protozoa, and helminths, which are treatable with chemicals and antibiotics. Proper health management practices are essential to ensure the sustainability and productivity of milkfish farming operations.

Challenges and Opportunities in Milkfish Farming

Milkfish farming faces both challenges and opportunities as producers and consumers benefit from new technologies. While advancements have improved productivity, issues persist with unreliable broodstock technology and the inconsistent supply of fry.

Cultural Significance and Changing Consumption Patterns

Despite its traditional status as a staple food in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Taiwan Province of China, milkfish consumption faces hurdles, particularly among the younger generation who tend to avoid its bony flesh. This presents a challenge in creating new markets for milkfish products.

Economic Factors Driving Innovation

The combination of high land values and relatively low milkfish prices necessitates the introduction of new technologies to increase productivity per unit of land. As a result, milkfish aquaculture is transitioning towards reliance on formulated feed rather than solely on natural productivity.

Expansion of Hatchery Operations

The growth of hatchery operations, particularly in Indonesia and the Taiwan Province of China, is anticipated to reduce fry costs through increased availability and improved spawning technology. This expansion will contribute to the sustainability and scalability of milkfish aquaculture.

Diversification and Market Development

To capitalize on emerging opportunities, the development, marketing, and promotion of new product types are essential. This includes exploring innovative ways to process and market milkfish to appeal to diverse consumer preferences.

Integration with the Baitfish Industry

The mass production of milkfish fry in hatcheries opens up opportunities for the baitfish industry, as surplus fingerlings become available for this sector. This integration highlights the interconnectedness and potential synergies within the aquaculture industry. Motivation – Mind – Success – Thinking – Productivity – Happiness

Continued Research and Development

Further research and development efforts are necessary to address ongoing challenges and unlock new opportunities in milkfish farming. This includes exploring advancements in marketing strategies, processing techniques, and product innovation to meet the evolving needs of producers and consumers alike.

Traditional and Modern Processing Methods

Milkfish undergoes various post-harvest processing methods, including smoking, drying, and fermenting, which have been practiced conventionally. However, more recent methods such as bottling, canning, and freezing have gained popularity, reflecting advancements in technology and changing consumer preferences.

Growth in Demand and Harvest

The demand for milkfish has steadily increased since the 1950s, with significant growth observed in recent decades. In 2005, the global milkfish harvest reached 595,000 tonnes, valued at approximately US$616 million, highlighting its economic importance in the seafood industry.

Value-Added Products and Market Expansion

The development of value-added products is underway, aiming to diversify milkfish offerings and capture new market segments. One promising avenue is the use of milkfish juveniles as bait for tuna long-lining, which has sparked interest in fry hatcheries to explore new market opportunities. Fish and Fishing accessories

The Phenomenon of Golden Bangus

In April 2012, a Filipino fisherman made headlines by donating a milkfish with a distinct yellowish coloring to the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, affectionately dubbed the “golden bangus.” However, the fish’s fame was short-lived, as it reportedly died shortly after being transferred to a pond, allegedly due to decreased oxygen levels.


Milkfish processing and marketing encompass a blend of traditional practices and modern innovations, reflecting the evolving dynamics of the seafood industry. As demand continues to grow, there is a push for value-added products and exploration of new market avenues, demonstrating the adaptability and resilience of milkfish farming. However, challenges such as maintaining quality and addressing environmental concerns remain critical considerations for sustainable growth in the milkfish sector.

Other Recommended Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *