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Introduction : The Hilsa fish is a species of fish in the herring family which is very popular

as food fish in South Asia. It is also known by many other different names such as Ilish, Hilsa
herring, Hilsa Shad, Ellis, Modar, Palva, Pallo Machhi, Sboor, Terubuk etc. It is a very important
species of fish in Bangladesh. And it contributes about 12 percent of the total fish production,
and about 1 percent of GDP in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, about 450,000 people are directly
involved with the catching for livelihood. And many people are indirectly involved with the
trade. It is also the national fish of Bangladesh. The Hilsa fish is a very important species of fish.
It is commercially very important is some south Asian countries. It is highly valued in
Bangladesh and India (especially in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu). It is a very
popular fish amongst the people of South Asia and Middle East, but especially with Bengalis and
Odias. It is highly popular mainly because of it’s flavor and taste. The fish is also exported

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum : Chordata

Class : Actinopterygii

Order : Clupeiformes

Family : Clupeidae

Genus : Tenualosa

Species : T. ilisha

Fig 1: Tenualosa ilisha

Life history : The fish is marine; freshwater; brackish; pelagic-neritic; anadromous; depth
range ? - 200 m. Within a tropical range; 34°N - 5°N, 42°E - 97°E in marine and freshwater. It
can grow up to 60 cm in length with weights of up to 3 kg. It is found in rivers and estuaries in
Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Myanmar (also known as Burma) and the Persian Gulf area where it
can be found in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in and around Iran and southern Iraq. It has no
dorsal spines but 18 – 21 dorsal soft rays and anal soft rays. The belly has 30 to 33 scutes. There
is a distinct median notch in upper jaw. Gill rakers fine and numerous, about 100 to 250 on lower
part of arch and the fins are hyaline. The fish shows a dark blotch behind gill opening, followed
by a series of small spots along the flank in juveniles. Color in life, silver shot with gold and
purple. The species filter feeds on plankton and by grubbing muddy bottoms. The fish schools in
coastal waters and ascends up the rivers (anadromous) for around 50 – 100 km to spawn during
the South West monsoons (June to September) and also in January to April . April is the most
fertile month for breeding of ilish. The young fish returning to the sea are known in Bangladesh
as jatka, which includes any ilish fish up to 9 inches long.

The life cycle of Hilsa is very typical and for that reason artificial breeding outside its natural
environment is almost impossible. Hilsa spawn in freshwater and deposit eggs diversely. After
spawning, when the larvae can swim, they try to find suitable nursery grounds, normally in the
lower region of the rivers in coastal waters and become Jatka i.e., juveniles of Hilsa. The jatka
remain around the nursery grounds for about 5-6 months and attain a minimum size of 15-16 cm.
Generally, the jatka acquire the ability to tolerate saline water and move downstream to the
estuary. There, they spend their young life stages in brackish water. Later, the young move
offshore for feeding and grow to adult size. After maturation, the adult again migrates upstream
for spawning following the same life pattern.

Fig 2: Life cycle of hilsa shad in the Ganges–Brahmaputra–
Meghna river system adjacent to the Northern Bay of Bengal

Fig 3: Life cycle of Tenualosa ilisha.

Food and feeding habits: In the case of aquatic animals, it is not easy to observe directly
their feeding in their natural habitat and thus determine accurately what they subsist on. It is only
the examination of gut contents of fishes that indicate their natural food from which feeding
habits can be inferred.
The food of the young individuals appears to consist mainly of organic detritus (48.56%),
copepods (25.82%), algae (10.32%), molluscan larvae (7.85%), mysids (5.34%) and diatoms
(2.10%). The juveniles of the Hilsa are predominantly bottom feeders. The stomach contents of
this species were analyzed and studied and; found to contain predominantly species and varieties
of the diatom genus Melosira. On the other hand, Synedraulna and Daphnia sp. were present in
lesser numbers. In some regions, the fishes show two periods of maximum feeding alternating
with a period of starvation or semi-starvation in both males and females. The juveniles are
voracious feeders, and sand particles are comparatively more abundant in their stomachs. the
feeding condition in the adults in the monsoon season in the Godavary River was always very
negligible, whereas juveniles showed fully fed guts with predominantly copepods and rotifers.
Where copepods were dominant, Spirogyra, diatoms, and other calonid algae were also
prevalent, the average proportions being 50% copepods, 35% Spirogyra filaments, 1%
Oscillatoria, 1% diatoms, 2% nematodes, 0.5% colonial algae, 0.5% Cypredae, and 10% organic
detritus. The main food items were Cyclotetta, Planktosphera, Oscillatoria, and Cyclops, and
they were found in 100% of the stomachs. The remaining food items, such as Ceratium,
Melosira, Bacillaria, and Navicula, were found in high occurrence but not in all stomachs. It was
also found that the average volume of food in each stomach is more in small fishes than in large

Age and growth : Fish age, development and growth are a cornerstone in fishery research
and management. Food availability, size increase, accumulation of energy reserves and timing of
sexual maturation and reproduction of hilsa are closely linked.

Sexuality and reproduction: The species is heterosexual, though one instance of

herrnaphroditism has been noted . The females, due to faster growth rate, attain larger sizes than
the males. Biologists have observed that the body of females is broader and the girth
comparatively larger. They have also mentioned that the urino-genital opening of the gravid
female is flat, but narrower in the case of males where the papillae are comparatively prominent.

Opinions differ whether one sex predominates over the other in different phases of the life
history of hilsa or whether the distribution conforms to the normal 1 : 1 ratio. In the case of
Hooghly hilsa, the ratio of males to females is generally constant, with a preponderance of males
at the commencement of the breeding season, and of females during the period of spawning.
Quddus (1982) found that there was no significant departure from the expected ratio in the
‘slender’ type in the Padma and Meghna; however, in respect of the ‘broad’ variety, he observed
that the males were preponderant in the months of June, October and December.

Conflicting views have been expressed on the minimum size of hilsa at first maturity.
Researchers observed that the hilsa may attain first maturity at the end of the first year, or at the
beginning of the second year. They have recorded that the males become mature when “8.5 -
10” in length presumed them over one year old, while females become mature when they are
10.5 -12” long. In Bangladesh waters (Meghna) researhers observed a size of 21 cm in the case
of males and 32cm in the case of females, as the size at first maturity. The hilsa spawns
throughout the year, peaking in February-March, July-August, and October-November.

Fecundity is one of the important aspects of reproductive biology of fish species which provides
information on the number of eggs in the ovary prior to the next spawning season. Fecundity
differs owing to various factors namely age, size, body and gonad weight and ecological
conditions of the water body. A wide range of variation is observed time to time in the fecundity
of Hilsa. Spawning of female Hilsa was high in October (GSI=10.2) and low in April
(GSI=6.77). For females, the fecundity was 87,267 to 614,482 in 210 mm to 350 mm length size
group of female hilsa. Size frequency of the ova was the main 47 criterion besides the ova
colour and bonding. The stages of maturity were determined following sages –
Stage I: The ovaries were extending to about ½ length of the body cavity. No ova were visible to
the naked eye. When testes under the microscope oocytes can be seen transparent with nucleus
and no yolk granules.
Stage II: Length of ovary was slightly more than ½ length of the body cavity. Ova were not
visible to the naked eye but faintly discernible when ovary is teased. Under the microscope ova
appeared transparent, with a few yolk granules in larger one.
Stage III: Ovaries about ¾ cm thick, occupying 2/3 rd of body cavity, ova yolked and visible in
situ to naked eye. When teased under the microscope ova are opaque.
Stage IV: Ovaries occupying ¾ body cavity and are much thicker, yellow in colour, ovar 1.5 cm
in thickness. Ova are opaque.
Stage V: Ovaries occupy whole length of the body cavity, much thicker and granular, and yellow
in colour. The larger ova have transparent periphery.
Stage VI: Ovaries occupies whole length of the body cavity and have maximum thickness. Large
transparent ova that ooze out at the slightest pressure.
Stage VII: size of ovary slightly shrinked as compare to stage VI, less firm to the touch, contains
a few large ova, which may be partly or fully transparent.

Breeding behavior: The Hilsa fish generally reach maturity within their 1-2 years of age.
They breed mainly in rivers, upstream to about 50 km or even over 1000 km as in the Ganges.
But the younger fish may breed in the tidal zone of rivers. The main breeding season of this fish
is during the southwest monsoon from May to August. With a shorter season from January to
February or March. Depending on the size of the females, they can lay up to 2 million eggs per
spawning. It has been observed that number of ova increased with age of fish and egg diameter
also increased with increasing fecundity.

Spawning of hilsa: Several workers have reported parameters responsible for the spawning
activities, the breeding period of Hilsa is slightly variable from place to place on account of
different ecological conditions. It is well known that temperature plays a role in development of
gonads as well as spawning. Spermatogenesis and oogenesis processes of Hilsa are fully active

when the temperature rose to 25 0C, but a temperature of 30 0C inhibits the effect on the gonadal
activities. Through, several spawning grounds are reported in the major river systems, it is likely
that these sites vary from year to year since there is no fixed spawning ground. Blaber et
al.,(2001 and 2003) reported that Hilsa spawn in rivers, estuaries and on the coast of Bangladesh,
although the proportion of fishes spawning on the coast is perhaps lower, but the pattern differs
from year to year. During the commencement of the South - West monsoon and consequent
flooding of the rivers, Hilsa starts its spawning migration upstream. Investigations carried out by
many workers on the reproductive biology of Hilsa indicated that the spawning of this species is
seasonal. The spawning season of Hilsa has been noticed during the period between August and
October. Hilsa spawns in all freshwater reaches of the rivers. the peak spawning of Hilsa in the
river Brahmaputra from May to July. There is no winter spawning for Hilsa. Hilsa seed along the
entire stretch round the year indicating the available sizes of the juveniles as 40 mm to 92 mm in
December, 50 mm to 90 mm in January, 56 mm to 112 mm in February, 70 mm to 115 mm in
March and 75 mm to 149 mm in April. It clearly indicates that major spawning takes place
during September – November and minor spawning during June – July and February – March.

Conclusion: There is an urgent need towards conservation of Hilsa in view of the present
interest for sustaining its fishery in the world. Intensive fishing in all the water bodies is to be
controlled without further lapse of time. In order to maintain sustainable yield and also increase
production, regulation of selective fishing by adjusting mesh size of the gears and simultaneous
control of juvenile destruction should be encouraged.

Bhaumik, U., Bose, S., Satpathy, B.B., Manna, K.R., Sahoo, A.K., Roshith, C.M., 2012.
Reproductive biology of indian shad (Tenualosa ilisha) in the bhagirathi-hooghly stretch of the
ganga river system; J. Inland Fish. Soc. India, 44(2): 42-48.

Blaber, S.J.M., Mazid, M.A., 2001. Hilsa Fishery Research in Bangladesh. ACIAR Project 9430,
Final Report, 123-20 p.

Dutta S., Hazra, S., 2017. From biology to management: A critical review of Hilsa Shad
(Tenualosa ilisha); Indian Journal of Geo Marine Sciences Vol. 46 (08), pp. 1503-1510.

Hossain,S.M., Sharifuzzaman, S.M., Chowdhury, S.L., 2016; Habitats across the life cycle of
hilsa shad (Tenualosa ilisha) in aquatic ecosystem of Bangladesh; Fisheries Management and

Karim, R., Roy, K.C., Roy P.R., Ahmed Z.F., 2015. Age and growth of hilsa shad, Tenualosa
ilisha (Hamilton, 1822) of the river Tentulia in Bangladesh. Journal of Fisheries Volume 3 Issue
1 Pages: 227-232.

Roomiani, L., Sotudeh, A. M., and Hakimi M. R., 2014. Reproductive biology of Hilsa shad
(Tenualosa ilisha) in coastal Waters of the Northwest of Persian Gulf; Iranian Journal of
Fisheries Sciences 13(1)201-215.

Utpal Bhaumik; 2015. Perspectives of reproductive biology and spawning behaviour of Indian
Shad (Tenualosa ilisha)–A global review.; International Journal of Current Research and
Academic Review ISSN; 2347-3215 Volume 3 Number 8 ; pp. 229-241.