Chanos chanos Click to enlarge image
A spawning aggregation of Milkfish at Ribbon Reef, off Cairns, Queensland, December 2007. Image: Michael Kingsford
© Michael Kingsford

Fast Facts

  • Classification
  • Size Range
    The species grows to about 1.5 m in length and at least 10.6 kg.


The Milkfish is a schooling species that has a small toothless mouth and a large deeply-forked caudal fin. It occurs in freshwater, estuarine, and inshore tropical and subtropical waters.


The Milkfish is a schooling species that has a small toothless mouth and a large deeply-forked caudal fin. The eyes are covered with a thick layer of gelatinous tissue. The body is silvery blue-green above, silvery on sides and white below.


It occurs in freshwater, estuarine, and inshore waters. On the Great Barrier Reef, adult Milkfish live inshore, but in summer, they migrate across the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon, and spawn just outside the ribbon reefs in the Coral Sea. The larvae then move back across the lagoon and recruit to shallow, inshore waters (Leis and Reader, 1991).


The species occurs in tropical and subtropical waters of the Indian Ocean and Western to Central Pacific. In Australia it is known from the south-west coast of Western Australia, around the tropical north of the country and south on the east coast to at least Jervis Bay, but possibly to Victoria.

The map below shows the Australian distribution of the species based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums. Source: Atlas of Living Australia.

Economic impacts

The species is an important aquaculture fish in parts of south-east Asia.


  1. Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-east Asia. Western Australian Museum. Pp. 292.
  2. Bagarinao, T.U. 1991. Biology of Milkfish (Chanos chanos Forsskal). Aquaculture Department, Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Centre. Pp. 94.
  3. Hoese, D.F., Bray, D.J., Paxton, J.R. & G.R. Allen. 2006. Fishes. in Beesley, P.L. & A. Wells. (eds) Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 35. ABRS & CSIRO Publishing: Australia. parts 1-3, pages 1-2178.
  4. Bagarino, T. 1999. Chanidae. in Carpenter, K.E. & V.H. Niem (Eds). FAO Species Identification Guide for Fishery Purposes. The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. Volume 3. Batoid fishes, chimaeras and bony fishes part 1 (Elopidae to Linophrynidae). FAO, Rome. Pp. iii-vi, 1398-2068.
  5. Leis, J.M. & S.E. Reader. 1991. Distributional ecology of larval milkfish, Chanos chanos (Pisces, Chanidae) in the Lizard Island Region. Environmental Biology of Fishes 30(4): 395-405.
  6. Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & R.C. Steene. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Crawford House Press. Pp. 557.