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Red Devil Mine - Fish and Aquatic Insect Tissue Study

The BLM is studying the concentrations of metals in fish and aquatic insects along the Kuskokwim River and several tributaries upstream and downstream of the Red Devil Mine. The study covers non-salmon species that make up a large portion of the diet of subsistence users in the area.

Project Study AreaDuring the summer and fall of 2010 and 2011, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game collected fish tissue samples for the BLM from adult northern pike, sheefish, burbot (or lush), Dolly Varden, and arctic grayling in the lower stretches of the George and Holitna rivers, in addition to 73 miles of the Kuskokwim River from Stony River to Crooked Creek.

 During the field sampling efforts, BLM fisheries staff also collected aquatic insects and juvenile fish, including Dolly Varden, arctic grayling, long-nosed sucker, and slimy sculpin, from eight small streams that flow into the Kuskokwim River. The farthest downstream tributary sampled as part of this study was an unnamed stream just below the George River. The most upstream tributary sampled was Vreeland Creek, which enters the Kuskokwim River just below Sleetmute.

U.S. Geological Survey water resources staff helped the BLM with the study by collecting BLM fisheries staff and contractors electrofishing Fuller Creek in June, 2010.water and sediment samples from each tributary. They also collected water and sediment samples from the Kuskokwim River upstream of Sleetmute where the Kuskokwim joins the Holitna River and also at Crooked Creek. The BLM is in the process of evaluating these samples in conjunction with the fish tissue and aquatic insect tissue results to get a clearer understanding of concentrations in the aquatic ecosystem of the middle Kuskokwim River.

Radio Tagged Burbot

In 2011 and 2012, the BLM received funding for a fish tracking project to determine the seasonal movements of northern pike, burbot, and arctic grayling in the middle Kuskokwim River. In 2011, several hundred transmitters were surgically implanted in pike and burbot by staff from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The tagged fish were also tissue sampled for future contaminants analysis. During the summer and fall of 2012, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game tagged additional pike, burbot, and nearly 200 arctic grayling in the study area, which was expanded north to include the Takotna River system.

The original study area established in 2010 covers approximately 15.5 million acres in the middle Kuskokwim River watershed.  In 2012, the study area was expanded to include 15 million additional acres of the lower Kuskokwim River to track the movement of fish that travel beyond the middle section of the river.  Since 2010, the BLM and ADF&G have collected tissue samples from over 1,200 fish from the Kuskokwim River and 17 of its tributaries.  Of those sampled fish, nearly 570 were tagged with radio transmitters, and their movements will be tracked over the next 1-2 years.  The movement data will show the amount of time fish spend in specific areas of the Kuskokwim Basin will allow us to identify areas that may contribute to the elevated metals in fish within the study area.

The latest interim report describing the results of this study is available below. This report will be updated in during spring/summer 2013 and periodically thereafter to include the analysis of fish tracking data.

Fish Tissue Contaminants Operations Plan - 2012This document contains additional details regarding the project design and objectives for collection of tissue samples from the Middle Kuskokwim River.947 Kb20.12.2012
Mercury in Northern Pike from the Yukon Delta NWR PosterPoster description: In this study, the USFWS measured mercury in pike muscle, from pike caught at traditional and well-used subsistence fishing sites. Includes consumption guidance developed by the Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services.88 Kb20.12.2012
Fact Sheet: Mercury in Burbot (Lush) and Pike from the Middle Kuskokwim River Area – June 2, 2011Factsheet developed by Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services on why are we concerned about mercury? Where does it come from in Alaska? How do I find out how much and which Alaska fish are safe to eat? Includes table describing the preliminary consumption guidelines for women and children who eat pike and burbot (Lush) from the Middle Kuskokwim River Area.485 Kb20.12.2012
NEW RELEASE - Mercury, Arsenic, and Antimony in Aquatic Biota from the Middle Kuskokwim River Region, AK, 2010-11This is the latest report describing the contaminant results of fish tissue samples collected from 2010-11 in the middle Kuskokwim River. The analysis is focused on mercury, arsenic, and antimony since they are contaminants of concern in the region. This report will be updated this winter to include the results from ongoing radio telemetry tracking of northen pike, burbot (lush), and Arctic grayling in the Kuskokwim basin.5983 Kb20.12.2012
The study consists of:
  • Sampling fish in the Kuskokwim, George, Holitna, and Takotna Rivers for concentrations of metals.
  • Sampling fish and aquatic insects in ten small tributaries, including Red Devil Creek, that flow into the Kuskokwim and analyzing them for concentrations of metals.
  • Sampling surface water and sediment quality for metals in the Kuskokwim River and nine tributaries.
  • Tracking seasonal movements of subsistence fish species, such as pike, burbot (lush) and arctic grayling.

Are you interested in becoming a fisheries intern for the BLM? The American Fisheries Society Hutton Scholar Program and the BLM have partnered together to offer internships to high school students who have an interest in fisheries management. 

If you are interested in internship or volunteer opportunities, please contact Matthew Varner at 907-271-3348.

For more information about this project, please contact:

Mathew S. Varner, Fisheries Program Lead, 907-271-3348

Mike McCrum, Red Devil Mine Project Manager, 

Return to the Red Devil Mine CERCLA RI/FS homepage.