Post date: Thursday, January 9, 2014 - 12:49
Updated date: 5/10/16
Arctic cisco, Coregonus autumnalis


The Arctic cisco is the most northerly of cisco/whitefish species, existing in both salt and fresh water. This species has historically been called the Arctic cisco. However, unlike other ciscoes, which are primarily plankton feeders, this cisco is a predator, an extremely aggressive biter and will take just about any artificial lure cast in its direction. Residents of the community of Kugluktuk at the mouth of the Coppermine River in Nunavut, Canada call this species “whitefish” and do not differentiate it between any other species of whitefish. There, they are caught as a by-catch while subsistence or sport fishing for Arctic char, and mostly fed to their dogs despite bearing a flesh that is similar in taste and consistency to lake whitefish.




A typical whitefish/cisco appearance: large, silvery scales along its sides, with a greenish hue on its back. There are black edges along the rays of the dorsal fin and tail. The adipose fin is also tinged black. The pectoral, pelvic and anal fins are translucent or white. Eyes are large and set low on the head. The mouth is small, although larger than in other Coregonids, toothless except for the tongue, with jaws of about equal length. The body is streamlined and torpedo-shaped. Fish captured weighed between one and three pounds and measured 14 to 22 inches. One dead giveaway is the abundance of lateral line scales. There were 108 counted on two fish captured from the Coppermine River, Nunavut, which surpasses the number one will find on any other whitefish or cisco, save inconnu – but there is no confusing the Arctic cisco with that species!




This fish has a circumpolar distribution, from the Coronation Gulf to the coast of eastern Siberia. They reportedly migrate far up the Mackenzie River, as far south as Fort Simpson, NWT. Little seems to be known about the life history of the Arctic cisco but in mid-August on the Coppermine River, this species was found at the river’s mouth on the edge of the salt barrier with the Arctic Ocean. The area is sandy and shallow, the water murky with poor visibility. Other species present included Arctic char, starry flounder, fourhorn sculpin, and blueback herring. Arctic cisco go to sea to feed but stay close to shore, primarily in estuarine areas. They reportedly travel upstream around late August to spawn in riffle areas of large rivers.




The only thing that seems to limit Arctic cisco from biting is their abundance or lack thereof. The mouth of the Coppermine provided fairly good fishing despite the fact that it flows past a community of 1,300 fishing-mad people. The first fish were caught while casting one and two-ounce spoons. Upon realization that these were something new, lures were scaled down to #2 spinners. In the end it was determined that it didn’t really matter what was thrown at them as long as it resembled a small fish fluttering in the water. Fish were caught trolling and casting. With such a short window to feed and put on weight, Arctic cisco are not very picky. These fish, along with most other species in the Far North, are undoubtedly opportunistic when it comes to food.



The arctic cisco is also found across the Russian arctic regions, from the White Sea eastward to Siberia. It was once thought to be the dominant whitefish species in the giant Lake Baikal of Russia, but that fish has since been found to be a different species. Strangely, there is also a small, disjunct population of Arctic Cisco in four lakes in the northern reaches of Ireland, where the fish is known as the Pollan. It is found nowhere else in Europe. In Northern Ireland, the Arctic Cisco lives in Lough Neagh and Lough Erne. In the Republic of Ireland, it lives in Lough Derg and Lough Ree.




Range Map

Photo Credits:

Photos by Mike Bryant of Yellowknife

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Post date: Saturday, August 25, 2012 - 23:59
Mouth of the Coppermine River near the Community...