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Atlantic Whitefish (Coregonus huntsmani)
Atlantic Whitefish (Coregonus huntsmani)

The Atlantic whitefish is a member of the family Salmonidae and is related to salmon and trout. It is often called Acadian whitefish, Sault whitefish, round whitefish and common whitefish.


The Atlantic whitefish has a very limited Distribution in southwestern Nova Scotia and is not known to occur anywhere else in the world.

Petite Rivière Watershed, Lunenburg County
Atlantic whitefish are known to occur in Millipsigate, Minamkeak and Hebb Lakes. These populations are landlocked. There appears to be an anadromous (seagoing) component, and are seen occasionally in the estuary. Specimens have also been found in the estuary of the LaHave River, Lunenburg County.

Tusket River Watershed, Yarmouth County
The Tusket River population of Atlantic whitefish was considered anadromous although they have not been noted in the watershed for several years. Additionally, specimens have been found in Yarmouth Harbour and the Annis River, a tributary of the Tusket River.

The lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis), a related species can be found in several areas of Nova Scotia and are often confused with Atlantic whitefish.

Physical Characteristics

Atlantic whitefish have the following characteristics:

Average length of the anadromous form is about 38 centimeters (15 inches) with an elongated body. The landlocked populations are generally 20 - 25 centimeters (8-10 inches).

Overall colouration is dark blue to dark green on the back, silvery on the sides and silvery to white on the belly. The dorsal fin and deeply forked caudal (tail) fin are dusky and the lower fins are light It also has an adipose fin (the small, fleshy fin between the dorsal and caudal fins, typical of salmonids).

Several physical characters can be used to distinguish between Atlantic whitefish and lake whitefish of equal size such as adipose fin base length, pectoral fin length, and nare (nostril) diameter but all are difficult to assess in the wild.

The number of lateral line scales differs significantly between Atlantic whitefish and lake whitefish. Atlantic whitefish typically possess more than 88 lateral line scales (usually 91-100) while lake whitefish typically possess fewer than 88 lateral line scales.

Facts About Atlantic Whitefish

The endemic (only found in one geographical location) Atlantic whitefish is classified as "endangered" by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and is protected under the Maritime Fishery Regulations and the Nova Scotia Endangered Species Act.
The Atlantic whitefish was first reported from Millipsigate lake, Lunenburg County and is considered the most primitive form of all the North American whitefishes.
The genus name Coregonus is coined from the Greek words meaning pupil and angle of the eye.
Acidification of southwestern Nova Scotia, poor land use practices, barriers to fish passage, overfishing and competition with others fish species is assumed to have impacted whitefish populations in Nova Scotia.

Fishing Facts

  • The landlocked populations of the Petite River watershed are known to have been angled for the last 60 years, confused with the lake whitefish and considered a food fish.
  • Anglers considered Atlantic whitefish as an excellent game fish often rising for flies and performing acrobatics when hooked.
  • Interviews with local residents indicate that prior to 1965, the Tusket River population was "ruthlessly" exploited during the upstream migration in October and the fish caught by poachers were apparently loaded into a dump truck and used as fertilizer.
  • The Atlantic whitefish is a protected species and angling for them strictly prohibited. If you see or accidentally catch what you believe is an Atlantic whitefish please make note of the location, date, size appearance of the fish, release it and notify one of the fisheries departments listed below.

Natural History

The Atlantic whitefish is anadromous, however, very little is know about its habitat requirements in both sea and fresh water, its reproduction or its behaviour. Landlocked Atlantic whitefish are thought to have similar life history strategies to lake whitefish.

Atlantic whitefish, in captivity, spawn in late fall or early winter (mid to late December) similar to lake whitefish. In the wild, they have been observed moving upstream among Atlantic salmon in October and November, presumably a spawning migration. In 1954, between October 18 and November 7, 86 Atlantic whitefish were caught in a research trap in the Tusket River fish ladder and were apparently present in the estuary prior to any captures in the trap.

Atlantic whitefish are believed to inhabit coastal waters during the summer months as captures were made from late May to August in Yarmouth Harbour, Hall's Harbour, the Petite Riviere estuary and off Wedgeport. Specimens have also been captured during the winter ice smelt fishery in the LaHave River estuary.

Very little is known about their diet or growth, however, stomach contents of specimens taken in Yarmouth Harbour yielded amphipods, small periwinkles, and marine worms. It is assumed that landlocked populations feed on plankton, aquatic insect larvae, emergent insects, minnows and fish eggs.

Stewardship of Atlantic Whitefish (English) or (French) version.

For more information contact your local federal or provincial Department of Fisheries, or write to:

For more information contact your local federal or provincial Department of Fisheries, or write to:
Fisheries & Oceans Canada
PO Box 550
Halifax, Nova Scotia
B3J 2S7
Facsimile: (902) 426-1489
OR: Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture, Inland Fisheries Division
PO Box 700
Pictou, Nova Scotia
B0K 1H0
Facsimile: (902) 485-4014
Email: Inland Fisheries

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On to the next Species Sheet Published With Funding from the Canada-Nova Scotia Cooperation Agreement on Economic Diversification, Resource Competitiveness Program.
  Last Update: May 1, 2007