The Mighty Cisco
Before Ciscos were routers, and even before Cisco was the latino Lone
Ranger, ciscos (Coreogonus artedii), also known as lake herring, were
commonly sold in the fish markets of the Great Lakes. Phylogenetically the
cisco is placed in the trout family, but it looks like a big shad. In The
Fishes of Illinois (Phillip W. Smith, 1979, University of Illinois
Press) it's described as a whitefish attaining the size of sixteen inches or
more. Ciscos live in cold deep freshwater lakes and in relatively shallow
parts of the Great Lakes where they are believed to feed on large
crustaceans, benthic organisms and an occasional minnow.
In the 1940s and earlier, ciscos were common and popular in the fish markets
of the Upper Great Lakes. If their flesh tasted anything like their larger
relative Coreogonus clupeaformis, commonly sold as Lake Superior
Whitefish, it was among the most heavenly fish to ever grace a dinner plate.
They were easy to catch and the fishing pressure was tremendous. Then, the
construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway to aid in shipping allowed sea
lampreys to enter the cisco's fresh water haunts. The hideous little rasp
mouthed beasts found the cisco just as alluring as the Great Lakes fishermen
did, and the cisco's populations plummeted.
Now that the concerted battle to rid the Great Lakes of lampreys has
achieved some success, related species like the lake whitefish and the lake
trout have enjoyed something of a resurgence. Not so the cisco, whose
recovery may have been thwarted by an inability to compete with other
(non-native) fish with similar feeding habits like the smelt and the alewife.
Several other, salmonids of genus Coreogonus are commonly known as ciscos
including the Blackfin cisco, Coreogonus nigripinnis, pictured above, the Shortnose
cisco,Coreogonus reighardi and the Shortjaw cisco, Coreogonus zenithicus. Unfortunately several of these are either extirpated throughout most of the Great Lakes or (as in the case of the Blackfin cisco) are now extinct.
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