The milkfish (Chanos chanos) is the sole living species in the family Chanidae. (About seven extinct species in five additional genera have been reported.) The Hawaiian name is awa, without initial glottal stop, not to be confused with ‘awa, with initial glottal stop, the name for Kava (Piper methysticum).
Description and biology
Milkfish have a generally symmetrical and streamlined appearance, with a sizable forked caudal fin. They can grow to 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in) but are most often about 1 metre (39 in) in length. They have no teeth and generally feed on algae and invertebrates.
They occur in the Indian Ocean and across the Pacific Ocean, tending to school around coasts and islands with reefs. The young fry live at sea for two to three weeks and then migrate to mangrove swamps, estuaries, and sometimes lakes and return to sea to mature sexually and reproduce.
The milkfish is an important seafood in Southeast Asia and some Pacific Islands. Because milkfish is notorious for being much bonier than other food fish, deboned milkfish, called "boneless bangus" (bangus is the local name) in the Philippines, has become popular in stores and markets. Another popular presentation of milkfish in Indonesia is "bandeng presto" (ikan "bandeng" is the Indonesian name for milkfish) from Central Java. Bandeng Presto is milkfish pressure cooked until the bones are rendered tender.
Milkfish aquaculture first occurred around 800 years ago in the Philippines and spread in Indonesia, Taiwan and into the Pacific. Traditional milkfish aquaculture relied upon restocking ponds by collecting wild fry. This led to a wide range of variability in quality and quantity between seasons and regions. In the late seventies, farmers first successfully spawned breeding fish. However, they were hard to obtain and produced unreliable egg viability. In 1980 the first spontaneously spawning happened in sea cages. These eggs were found to be sufficient to generate a constant supply for farms.
Fry are raised in either sea cages, large saline ponds (Philippines) or concrete tanks (Indonesia, Taiwan). Milkfish reach sexual maturity at 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lb), which takes 5 years in floating sea cages, but 8-10 years in ponds and tanks. Once 6 kilograms (13 lb) is reached (8 years) an average of 3-4 million eggs will be produced each breeding cycle. This is mainly done using natural environmental cues. However, there have been attempts using gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogue (GnRH-A) to induce spawning. Some still use the traditional wild stock method. This involves capturing wild fry using nets.
Milkfish hatcheries, like most hatcheries, contain a variety of cultures, as well as the target species. For example rotifers, green algae and brine shrimp. They can either be intensive or semi-intensive. Semi-intensive methods are more profitable with it costing $6.67 US per 1000 fry in 1998, compared with $27.40 per 1000 fry for intensive methods. However, the experience required by labour for semi-intensive hatcheries is higher than intensive.
Milkfish nurseries in Taiwan are highly commercial and have densities of about 2000/litre. Indonesia achieves similar densities but has more backyard-type nurseries. The Philippines have integrated nurseries with grow-out facilities and have densities of about 1000/litre.
There are three methods of outgrowing: pond culture, pen culture and cage culture.
- Shallow ponds are found mainly in Indonesia and the Philippines. These are shallow 30–40 centimetres (12–16 in), brackish ponds with benthic algae, usually used as feed. They are usually excavated from ‘nipa’ or mangrove areas and produce ~ 800kg/ha/yr. Deep ponds (2-3m) have a more stable environment and began in 1970. They so far have shown less susceptibility to disease than shallow ponds.
- In 1979 pen culture was introduced in Laguna de Bay, which had high primary production. This provided an excellent food source. Once this ran out, fertilizer was applied. They are susceptible to disease.
- Cages culture occurs in coastal bays. These consist of large cages suspended in open water. These rely largely upon natural sources of food.
Harvest occurs when the individuals are between 20-40cm (250-500g). Partial harvests remove uniform sized individuals with seine nets or gill nets. Total harvest removes all individuals and leads to a variety of sizes. Forced harvest happens when there is an environmental problem, such as depleted oxygen due to algal blooms and all stock is removed.
Processing and marketing
Milkfish processing takes two forms. Traditional ways include smoking, drying and fermenting. Bottling, canning and freezing are of recent origin. There has been a steady increase in demand since 1950. In 2005, 595,000 tonnes was harvested worth USD $616 million.
There is an increasing trend toward value-added products. In recent years the possibility of using milkfish juveniles as bait for tuna long lining has started to be investigated, opening up new markets for fry hatcheries.
On April 21, 2012, a Filipino fisherman donated a milkfish with yellowish coloring to the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), which was later on called the "Golden Bangus." However, the fish soon died, allegedly because of decrease of oxygen in the pond where it was transferred.
- Lee, C-S., Leung, P.-S. And Su, M.-S. 1997. Bioeconomic evaluation of different fry production systems for milkfish (Chanos chanos). Aquaculture. Volume 155, Issues 1-4, 20
- R.S.J Gapasina, et al. Enrichment of live food with essential fatty acids and vitamin C: effects on milkfish (Chanos chanos) larval performance.
- "Chanos chanos". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 11 March 2006.
- Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2006). "Chanidae" in FishBase. May 2006 version.
- Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2006). Species of Chanos in FishBase. May 2006 version.
- Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2006). "Chanos chanos" in FishBase. May 2006 version.
- Francisco José Poyato-Ariza, A revision of the ostariophysan fish family Chanidae, with special reference to the Mesozoic forms (Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, 1996)
- Media related to Chanos chanos at Wikimedia Commons
- Data related to Chanos chanos at Wikispecies
- Boneless Bangus
- FishBase entry for milkfish
- SEAFDEC milkfish hatchery info
- DA, Philippines, About Bangus