Fish Passage and Behavior

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Specially constructed passages that allow fish to go around dams or other barriers are key to migratory fish accessing spawning areas, nurseries and other crucial habitats. USGS helps identify the best location for these passages and is involved in designing and testing these state-of-the-art structures. The research helps key species navigate waterways and complete instinctual migratory cycles, which strengthens local ecosystems and fishing communities. 

Learn more about our research by visiting the web pages below.

Leetown Science Center

Full-Scale Development and Evaluations of Fish Passage Structures and Fish Behavior

Many migratory fish species have been in decline worldwide due in large part to dams and poorly designed fishways that prevent fish from reaching spawning and feeding grounds. The USGS has a unique large-scale flume facility that allows for full-scale testing of upstream and downstream passage conditions with live test species. The S.O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center laboratory provides semicontrolled conditions that enable USGS, NMFS, DOE, and State scientists and engineers to improve and develop new fish passage designs and technologies and also identify behaviors and hydraulics that inform design criteria for successful fish passage. The goal of this work is to restore self-sustaining populations of migratory fish while maintaining a balance between energy production, water management, and ecosystem restoration.


Innovative Fishway Entrance to Enhance Fish Passage

The USGS, in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts, was awarded an Innovative Solutions for Fish Passage at Hydropower Dams grant by the DOE in 2018 to develop and test a new fishway attraction and entrance technology designed to enhance fish passage. Relative to other technical fishway components, the Fishway Entrance Palisade is likely to have broad applicability to many target species including Atlantic salmon, American shad, alewife, and blueback herring. This work can benefit the hydropower industry by reducing fishway operation and maintenance costs, and can benefit restoration efforts for these species by providing more efficient and safe passage around riverine and other barriers.


Biotelemetry Studies of Fish Behavior and Passage Through Dams

Understanding and quantifying fish behavior is essential for identifying fish passage problems and developing effective passage solutions across hydropower dams and other manmade barriers. Biotelemetry, or using radio and acoustic telemetry to track biological organisms, has emerged as the method of choice for acquiring detailed, individual-based data to quantify passage and critical fish behaviors. Working in collaboration with the USFWS, NMFS, DOE, and State agencies, the USGS S.O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center scientists have adapted and developed advanced telemetry technologies for fish passage studies and statistical analysis methods for fish passage evaluations. These advances can help maximize the return on labor- and cost-intensive studies that integrate fish behavior with hydraulic and physical characteristics of passage structures to improve passage design.


Western Fisheries Research Center

Understanding Downstream Fish Passage in the Willamette River Basin

Efforts are currently underway to improve fish passage conditions at dams in the Willamette Valley, Oregon, and enhance populations of anadromous fish species. The USGS, in cooperation with the USACE—who owns and operates the 13 Willamette Project dams, completed a synthesis of existing literature on downstream fish passage research in the Willamette River Basin. Threatened populations of Upper Willamette River Chinook salmon and steelhead reside within the boundaries of the Willamette Project and are a primary focus for regional resource managers. This synthesis can serve as an important reference for resource managers and others interested in downstream fish passage within the Willamette Project.


Use of Acoustic Cameras to Study Behavior of Fish Routed Around a Hydroelectric Dam

USGS scientists used acoustic cameras to assess the behavior and abundance of bull trout-size fish at the entrance to the North Fork Reservoir juvenile fish floating surface collector (FSC). The purpose of the FSC is to collect downriver migrating juvenile salmonids at the North Fork Dam and safely route them around the hydroelectric dam. The acoustic cameras also determined if the presence of bull trout-size fish influenced the collection or abundance of juvenile salmonids near the FSC. Results from this study can be used by mangers to help inform decisions about collection and passage solutions for juvenile salmonids at the FSC, as well as to identify the potential for predation by bull trout near the FSC entrance.