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For second year in a row, dozens of fish found dead in Kobuk River

For the second year in a row, people living along the Kobuk River in Northwest Alaska have reported spotting dead chum salmon and whitefish in the river.

The die-off was spotted in mid-July, when warm temperatures and low water levels led to some dead, unspawned fish turning up in parts of the remote river. The die-off does not appear to be as widespread as last year, when hundreds of unspawned fish were found dead in the river, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game area biologist Jim Menard.

Menard said the only reports to Fish and Game were of some dead fish in the sloughs near Shungnak. With warm, low water in those areas, he said fish deaths are not uncommon.

Temperatures dropped and rain moved into the region in August, helping to mitigate further die-offs. Menard said the chum run this year is strong -- expected to be the sixth-highest ever, according to data from the Kobuk River test fishery -- but not as strong as 2014, which was the strongest in the project's 23-year history.

In 2014, the large number of fish in the river was also thought to have contributed to the fish die-offs.

Kathy Custer, environmental coordinator for the Native Village of Shungnak, said between 50 and 75 fish had been found dead near camps up- and downriver from the village. She said last year there were about 100 dead in the same area.

Ambler Tribal Administrator Virginia Commack heard reports of a few dead fish from camps close to that town, 30 miles downriver from Shungnak. She said that led to early concerns from villagers that a massive die-off would occur for the second year in a row. None has occurred, though she said those heading to camps along the river will be keeping a close eye out in the coming weeks.

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