Pygmy Whitefish

Scientific Name: Prosopium coulteri

Identifying Characteristics: Like all salmonids, pygmy whitefish have a fleshy adipose fin located between the dorsal fin and caudal fin (tail). Their general appearance is silvery or white with an olive-brown back. The snout overhangs the mouth, there is a single flap between the nostrils on each side, the eye is large (similar in diameter to the length of the snout), transparent membrane surrounding the eye has a distinct notch below the rear edge of the pupil. The pygmy whitefish differs from the mountain whitefish in dorsal fin ray counts (9-12 vs. 11-15)

Status: Native to the Pend Oreille Watershed. Pygmy whitefish were classified as a “Sensitive” species in Washington State in 1998.  The Pend Oreille Salmonid Recovery Team chose pygmy whitefish as the number three priority fish species for recovery in WRIA 62.

Distribution: Historically, pygmy whitefish were found in 15 lakes in Washington, including three in WRIA 62 - Bead, Marshall, and Sullivan (Hallock and Mongillo 1998).  Currently, pygmy whitefish are found in just nine Washington lakes, including two in WRIA 62 (Sullivan and Bead). The abundance and productivity of pygmy whitefish in WRIA 62 lakes is unknown (Hallock and Mongillo 1998). The diversity of WRIA 62 populations has been reduced as they are now found in only two of three lakes where they were historically present (Curt Vail, WDFW, pers. comm. 2004).   

Species Notes: The future of pygmy whitefish populations is dependent on maintenance of good water quality, spawning habitat, and prevention of predator introductions (Hallock and Mongillo 1998) into Sullivan and Bead lakes.