What is a Milkfish?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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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.

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.


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