Lake Herring (a.k.a. Cisco) Return to Great Lakes

Good news for Northern Michigan fishing enthusiasts, lake herring are making a comeback in the Great Lakes. Discover more with this article, originally published in the February 2016 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.


Lake herring have had a rough go the past half-century or so. Once one of the Great Lakes’ most abundant native fish, the herring—also known as cisco—suffered a significant and sustained population decline beginning in the 1960s largely as a result of habitat degradation.

But we’re hearing hints of good news these days from our state fisheries researchers: cisco are staging a comeback for the first time in decades.

Researchers have found not only an increase in the cisco population in Grand Traverse Bay but also an expansion in the cisco’s territory: roughly from Pentwater all the way to Naubinway. Annalise Povolo, a cisco researcher at the DNR’s Charlevoix Fisheries Research Station, says that while the reasons for the comeback aren’t entirely known, it’s possible that the cisco have adapted their diet to include invasive species such as round gobi and alewives.

This winter, Povolo and her colleagues will assess the information they’ve gathered so far and figure out the next steps for monitoring the cisco’s return. In the meantime, she says we should all be excited about this important turn in Great Lakes ecology—because the cisco is an important prey and commercial fishing species, plus, it’s just, as she says, “a really cool fish.”

“It’s the underdog story,” she says. “You want to see things like that do well.”


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