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


Global Range

The Bering cisco is an anadromous coregonid with extensive spawning migrations into the upper reaches of large rivers that flow into the Beaufort, Bering and Chukchi seas. They range from the Chukotsk and Kamchatka coastal regions of the Siberian far east to the northwestern portion of North America. Their geographic range is virtually confined to the area of the Bering glacial refuge. It is believed that the Bering cisco survived the most recent glacial advance in the Bering refuge and has not significantly expanded its range postglacially (McPhail and Lindsey 1970). The species is thought to occur in Chukotsk and Kamchatka regions of the Siberian far east (Zoological Institute RAS 2002). Chereshnev (1984) described specimens taken from the mouth of the Chegitun River, Chukchi Penninsula.

In North America, Bering cisco are encountered along the Alaskan coast in the Beaufort, Bering and Chukchi seas. The species has also been found in the western region of the Gulf of Alaska (Figure 2). More specifically, occurrences have been reported in the coastal waters near Port Barrow, Alaska (McPhail 1966). Further east, they are known to occur in the river delta area of the Colville River (U.S. Bureau of Land Management 1998; Bickham et al. 1997) to Oliktok Point, Alaska (Mecklenburg et al. 2002). In the Bering Sea, the species has been reported in coastal areas of Kotzebue

Figure 2: Location of Reported Occurrences of Bering Cisco in Alaska and Yukon Territory

Figure 2: Location of reported occurrences of Bering Cisco in Alaska and Yukon Territory.

Sound, Norton Sound, Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, and along the Bristol Bay coast associated with the Tagiah National Wildlife Refuge. They have also been reported in the Gulf of Alaska inhabiting the Cook Inlet in the Kenai River delta area.

Alaskan spawning migrations have only been reported in the Kuskokwim River and the Yukon River near the confluence with the Tanana River in Alaska. Numbers of Bering cisco in these runs are thought to greatly outnumber those of any other salmonid species (Brown, pers. comm., 2003). Bering cisco migrations have been reported in the lower section of the Porcupine River, a large tributary of the Yukon River. It is unclear if migrations occur in any of the other larger tributaries of the lower Yukon River.

Canadian Range

While Bering cisco have not been documented in the Mackenzie drainage, conceivably they may be found farther west in Yukon coastal waters where their range may overlap with Arctic cisco, C. autumnalis (S. Stephenson, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Inuvik, NT, personal communication 2003; Lawrence, M., North/South Consultants, Winnipeg, Manitoba, personal communication 2003). Although there has been no documentation of the species along the Yukon coastal portion of the Beaufort Sea (Bond and Erickson 1989), little effort specific to establishing their presence has been made in this region.

Presence of Bering cisco in the Yukon River mainstem near Dawson City was first confirmed in 1977 (de Graaf 1981). Sporadic observations since have continued at fishwheels operated by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans near the United States/Canadian border (Milligan, pers. com., 2003). These reports are the only occurrences reported in Canada. The notable absence in the commercial catch near Dawson City is thought to be due to the large mesh gillnets used in the salmon fishery (J. Couture, Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board, Whitehorse, Yukon, personal communication 2003). Considering its anadromous behaviour and scarcity of observations in Canadian waters, Dawson City may be the upper migratory range of this species in the Yukon River. It is conceivable that Bering cisco could migrate into the Canadian portion of the upper Porcupine River, a large tributary of the Yukon drainage basin, but have not been documented from there.