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October 26, 2001

A Giant Thai Mullet?

Get some background information on Thailand's milkfish.

Q: Could you please identify this fish? I caught it near the Sheraton Hotel in Phuket, Thailand, using a plastic tail tipped with a crust of bread. It looks like a giant mullet (of which there were several in the area). I released the fish and was glad to see it swim away strongly. - John Johnson, Camarillo, California

A: It looks like the milkfish, Chanos chanos, which is widely cultured for food in tropical Asiatic countries. Milkfish spawn in coastal shallows where fish farmers net the young fry to stock in inland ponds. They eat almost any food and grow rapidly, up to 1 pound in as little as six months and reaching as large as 4 feet and 30 pounds. Milkfish look a little like tarpon in that both are silvery with large scales and have large eyes and a single dorsal fin, but the milkfish's mouth is much smaller than the tarpon's. Milkfish are found in the Indian Ocean, throughout the warm waters of the western Pacific, and along the Pacific coast of northern South America as far north as Southern California.