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What is a Lake Whitefish?

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  • Written By: J.L. Drede
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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The lake whitefish is a freshwater whitefish found in North America. Like the name suggests, the lake whitefish is white in coloration, although it also has shading of light green or olive around its backpale. Its sides and belly are typically silver in appearance, while its tail is darker than the rest of the body. The tail is deeply forked, and its scales are very large

It is part of the Salmonidae family of fish and part of the Coregonus genus, and its scientific name is Coregonus clupeaformis. While it is mostly found in lakes, populations are known to exist in large rivers as well.

One of the its distinguishing features is its very small head, which looks even smaller as it grows since its develops a large bump of flesh at the shoulders. It grows to about 21 inches (54 cm) in length and can weigh up to 42 pounds (19 kg). In the wild the fish has been known to live for up to 50 years.

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Lake whitefish are found mostly in cooler climates. Its range extends from Alaska down through Canada up into the northern regions of New England, the Great Lakes and Minnesota. The depth range of the fish changes throughout the year. In the spring, the fish leaves deep water for the shallows before returning back as summer approaches. It once again returns to the shoals in the fall and early winter, however, for spawning, before again going back to deeper waters. For the most part the lake whitefish is a bottom feeder, feeding on insect larvae, mollusks and small amphipods. Additions to its diet may include other smaller fish as well as fish eggs.

The lake whitefish is sought after for both game and commercial fishermen. Caught whitefish are sold both fresh and frozen, and can be baked, boiled, fried and steamed. The eggs of the fish are also prized, and are considered to produce a very fine caviar. During the mid-1990s levels of the fish in the Great Lakes fell due to overfishing, but since then the populations have recovered significantly.

Unfortunately, while the fish is a popular choice for food, it is also found to contain high levels of PCBs. These toxic man-made chemicals were banned in the 1970s, but they are slow to break down and continue to be a problem in the wild, especially in the Great Lakes. While eating lake whitefish occasionally is not considered to be dangerous, habitual, repeated meals using the fish may increase the chances of getting cancer.

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