Milkfish (Chanos chanos)

The milkfish is very important in the Indo-Pacific, where it is used widely for food, but is mostly ignored in North America. However, its tarponlike appearance has caused anglers to misidentify it and spend much time futilely trying to catch it on artificial lures and flies.


Looking somewhat like a large mullet or a tarpon, the milkfish has a streamlined and compressed body, large eyes, and a silvery metallic coloring. It also has a small, toothless mouth; a single spineless dorsal fin; and a large forked tail fin.


The milkfish can reach 5 feet in length and a weight of 50 pounds and can live for 15 years. The all-tackle world record is a 24-pound, 8-ounce Hawaiian fish.

Life history/Behavior

Milkfish spawn in shallow, brackish water, and a single fish may produce 9 million eggs. These float on the surface until they hatch, and the new larvae enter inshore waters 2 to 3 weeks after hatching. Older larvae settle in coastal wetlands during the juvenile stage, occasionally entering freshwater lakes, and older juveniles and young adults return to the sea to mature sexually.

Food and feeding habits

Milkfish larvae feed on zooplankton, whereas juveniles and adults eat bacteria, soft algae, small benthic invertebrates, and sometimes pelagic fish eggs and larvae.

Other Names

salmon herring; Afrikaans: melkvis; Fijian: yawa; French: chano, thon; Hawaiian: awa; Japanese: sabahii; Philippine languages: bangos, banglis, bangolis, bangris, banglot; Tahitian: tamano; Thai: pla nuanchan; Vietnamese: cá máng.


In the eastern Pacific, milkfish occur from San Pedro, California, to the Galápagos Islands. Habitat. Adults travel in schools along continental shelves and around islands where there are well-developed reefs and where temperatures exceed 68°F. Milkfish flourish in water as hot as 90°F.