Restoring cisco stocks in Keuka Lake

Staff reports
The Chronicle Express

October 15, staff from DEC Region 8 Fisheries, Bath Fish Hatchery, and United States Geological Survey at Tunison (USGS) stocked 205,000 cisco (Coregonus artedi) into Keuka Lake as part of an experimental native forage fish restoration project. The stocked fish came from eggs collected from Chaumont Bay in Lake Ontario and were reared at USGS Tunison Lab and DEC’s Bath and Oneida hatcheries.

A cisco (Coregonus artedi).

nullResearchers implanted 60 cisco with small acoustic tags, and strategically placed 20 receivers throughout the lake to record tagged fish movements. The DEC, USGS, and Cornell University are collaborating to study the movements, survival, and habitat use of cisco.

This was the third year of stocking with a total of 399,000 cisco stocked. Cisco were last collected in Keuka Lake in 1994. Recent changes relating to decreasing lake productivity and a collapse in the non-native alewife population provided the opportune time to attempt cisco restoration in Keuka Lake.

Also called lake herring, cisco are a cold water native species that are generally better suited than alewives for low productivity waters, are longer lived, and can be recreationally harvested.

According to Cornell University, cisco have dark blue to pale olive backs and silvery sides. All their fins are basically clear, although the anal and pelvic fins are milky on adults. This fish has a protruding lower jaw forked tail, and an adipose fin. Although size varies greatly, cisco are usually 10–14 inches long and weigh 1/2–1 pound. Cisco are widely distributed in lakes cross New York. It is present in Lakes Erie and Ontario, tributaries of the St. Lawrence River, Otsego Lake, and in various lakes in the Adirondacks including Lake Champlain.

Spawning occurs in late fall, when large spawning groups congregate. Males move to spawning areas before females. In inland lakes, spawning usually takes place in shallow water (3–10 feet deep) over almost any type of bottom, but often over gravel or stony substrate. In large lakes, spawning may occur in shallow water or in deep water. About 20,000-29,000 eggs are deposited on the lake bottom by each female; no parental care is given eggs or young, which hatch early the following spring.

Cisco are a schooling fish, usually frequenting deep water. They move to shallower water in fall as upper waters cool. They are primarily plankton feeders, though insects and small minnows are eaten on occasion. Cisco are an important food for large game fish.

The flesh of these fish is palatable. It is caught commercially and sought by sport fishermen in the fall using flies and small minnows. It is also caught through the ice on jigs.