Last week, a group of Bethel college students found hundreds of dead blackfish at the bottom of one of Dull Lake’s tributaries. Both residents and experts suspected they were killed by pollution, but according to the state Fish and Game Department, there might be a different explanation.
A few days ago, Fish and Game biologist Patrick Jones took a walk from Dull Lake to Bethel’s Brown Slough. His agency had received reports of a blackfish die off in a creek that runs between Sixth and Seventh Avenue, and Jones was following one of the lake’s tributaries to assess the stream’s health.
Jones saw the dead blackfish in the stream, but he said that since the fish elsewhere in the stream were alive and well it led him to a logical conclusion.
“It looked pretty obvious that someone just left their fish trap in a little too long and dumped the dead fish in the river,” said Jones. “That would be my number one guess. I didn’t see any reason to think it would be anything other than that.”
Reports of the dead blackfish began surfacing last week, when University of Alaska Fairbanks, Kuskokwim Campus student Jacques Peter Smart posted about them on Facebook. Smart and other students started fishing the Kuskokwim together a few months ago to unwind, and they set several traps for blackfish to bait their hooks. Smart said that the dead fish started appearing two or three weeks ago.
The Orutsararmiut Native Council (ONC) began to investigate the potential die off on November 17, and Environmental Coordinator Mary Matthias initially suspected that the fish had been killed by water pollution. In a call today, however, she said that ONC had also concluded that the blackfish were killed in a neglected trap, rather than by water contamination. She added that the trap the blackfish died in must have been neglected for several weeks.