Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks officials are breathing a sigh of relief after investigating the death of several hundred whitefish in the Yellowstone River this week.

Spokesperson Andrea Jones, speaking from her Bozeman office, said even though the fish were killed by the same parasite that forced the closure of the river late last summer and devastated the fishing and tourism business, the numbers of dead fish are much smaller this year.

"It's very different than last year, in a good way," said Jones. "We're just not seeing the same numbers at all, not forcing us to have to close down or restrict anything at this point because of mortality to the fish. We have seen in the past couple of weeks some numbers of diseased whitefish on the Yellowstone, and we do know from testing recently that it was proliferative kidney disease, or PKD, which is what we saw last year. We have much fewer numbers, in the hundreds versus the thousands, and those numbers are dwindling. In fact, the float we did this week numbered in the teens. We're also dealing with much better flows that last year, and we expect that mortality to subside."

Jones said the river conditions last year were ideal for the disease to proliferate, while this year the temperatures are cooler, and flows are higher from a better runoff season.

"We knew this would happen again, because it's in the system," she said. "However, we're not going to have to close the system or restrict activities this year. It could happen again next year, but we're probably better equipped, more aware and alert to it, so there's some good news there."

In 2016, the $900 million fishing industry was placed in jeopardy after the massive fish kill that occurred on the Yellowstone.

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