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COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Blackfin Cisco in Canada


Global Range

The blackfin cisco is part of the subfamily Coregoninae which have a global distribution within North America, Europe and Asia. As a species, blackfin cisco is only known to occur, or have occurred, within the Laurentian Great Lakes and Lake Nipigon. It has also been reported in several lakes in central Canada, but the taxonomy of the fish in these lakes has not been resolved.

Canadian Range

Historically, the blackfin cisco was reported by Koelz (1929) as an endemic species to each of the Great Lakes bordering Ontario, except Lake Erie; and also Lake Nipigon. More recently, the Lake Superior form was synonymized with the shortjaw cisco (Clarke and Todd 1980) and the Lake Ontario form was deemed invalid (Todd 1981).

Blackfin cisco have been reported within the Little Jackfish River watershed adjacent to Lake Nipigon in 1986 and 2004, and Ombabika Bay, the outlet of the Little Jackfish River in Lake Nipigon (UMA 1987). The identification of the specimens from these locations was confirmed (T. Todd, USGS, pers. comm. 2005). It is plausible that fish from these locations are related to, or originated from, the Lake Nipigon population. However, it seems unusual for a species with a deepwater affinity to have a riverine occurrence, and these may be accidentals that have migrated into the river and are not resident there.

The blackfin cisco has also been reported in lakes throughout central Canada (Figure 2, Appendix 1). In Ontario, it has been reported from lakes in northwestern and central Ontario. Deepwater cisco have also been reported in the Ogoki River, which was originally part of the Albany River drainage, but has been diverted south to flow into the Great Lakes drainage. These have also been confirmed as blackfin cisco by Todd, but their affinity is unknown. Ryder et al. (1964) tentatively reported blackfin cisco from several lakes in northwestern Ontario; however, they cautioned that, “Until a comprehensive taxonomic study on the coregonids of the northern inland lakes has been completed, the identifications of C. nigripinnis and C. zenithicus are tentative. It is possible that C. nigripinnis is merely a deep-water form of C. artedii”. Such a taxonomic study has not taken place on specimens from these lakes, nor from any other inland lake in Ontario; therefore, the taxonomic identify of these specimens is unresolved.

The blackfin cisco has also been reported in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta (Figure 2; Appendix 1). Hinks (1957, in Stewart et al. 2004) reported the species from Lake Winnipeg. However, Clarke (1973, in Stewart et al. 2004) did not consider the Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba specimens to be different from C. artedii. As a result, there are presently no confirmed records of blackfin cisco reported in Manitoba (M. Erickson, Manitoba Water Stewardship, Fisheries Branch, Winnipeg, MB, personal communication 2005; K. Stewart, Professor (retired) Department of Zoology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, personal communication 2005). 

In Saskatchewan, Dymond (1943, in Scott and Crossman 1973) considered the species to occur in Waskesiu, Little Trout, Burntwood and Heart lakes. Additional occurrences have been reported for Clearwater, Kingsmere and Reindeer lakes. However, these records are no longer considered as valid as specimens collected from these lakes are now considered to be forms of C. artedii and not C. nigripinnis (J. Pepper, Saskatchewan Conservation Data Centre, Fish and Wildlife Branch, Saskatchewan Environment, personal communication 2005).

Dymond (1943) reported the species from Lake Athabaska; however, this occurrence is now considered invalid (Kooyman 1970, in Scott and Crossman, 1973; J. Nelson, Professor Emeritus, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, personal communication 2005).

Therefore, the Canadian range of the blackfin cisco is Lakes Huron, Lake Nipigon and its tributaries, and possibly some of the inland lakes in northwestern and central Ontario.

Figure 2: Reported Distribution of Blackfin Cisco in Canada

Figure 2: Reported distribution of blackfin cisco in Canada. Data compiled from museum collection data and reports from literature.

Data compiled from museum collection data and reports from literature. Historical records of blackfin cisco for inland lakes in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta are now considered to be invalid due to taxonomic uncertainty.