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New Project: Cisco Restoration in Lake Ontario

Matt Hare, Ellen George, Lars Rudstam, Darran Crabtree (TNC), Brian Lantry (USGS), Zy Biesinger (USFWS). Funded by New York Sea Grant with contributions from TNC, USGS and USFWS. 

Cisco Coregonus artedi are an important native prey fish species for lake trout Salvelinus namaycush and Atlantic salmon Salmo salar. Today Chaumont Bay holds one of the last known remnant spawning stocks of cisco in the New York waters of Lake Ontario. Although Lake Ontario cisco populations are likely heavily dependent on the success of the Chaumont Bay population, little is known of their spawning habitat or the degree of reproductive success. Cisco populations are also threatened by the potential loss of genetic diversity and possible introgression with lake whitefish Coregonus clupeaformis following recent reductions in population size. Restoration of cisco in Lake Ontario has been identified as a critical element to the successful restoration of other salmonids, as they offer an alternative prey base that is low in thiaminase. However, simply increasing cisco numbers is not sufficient – availability of suitable spawning habitat and the genetic integrity of the spawning stock are vital for a strong, self-sustaining population. This project will identify habitat characteristics associated with successful cisco reproduction and map currently utilized (and under-utilized) spawning habitat to guide population supplementation efforts. In addition, genetic data will be used to evaluate population risks based on inbreeding and hybridization effects as well as to inform broodstock collections and hatchery procedures in support of restoration.