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. 

Each project below is associated with a type of energy production or transmission. Types of energy production or transmission are represented by the following icons:

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Hydropower

Abbreviations used in project descriptions are defined on the Energy and Wildife Abbrevations page.

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Biotelemetry Studies of Fish Behavior and Passage Through Dams

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

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 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.

 

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Developing Selective Fish Passage to Block Invasive Sea Lamprey

Science Center: Western Fisheries Research Center

The sea lamprey is an invasive, parasitic fish species in the Great Lakes, causing damage to recreational and commercial fisheries, which are valued at more than $7 billion annually (Great Lakes Fishery Commission, 2018). USGS scientists, in collaboration with the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, University of Massachusetts, Michigan State University, and the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, are evaluating velocity-based barriers, nonstick surfaces, and other strategies that take advantage of the relatively poor swimming abilities of lamprey. The goal is to develop selective fish passage that would block the passage of sea lamprey while allowing desirable fish species to pass through unharmed.

 

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

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

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. 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.

Fish passage collage

From left: Fish ladder at John Day Lock and Dam (Credit: Karim Delgado, USACE). The floating surface collector on the Clackamas River helps juvenile salmon go downstream safely past hydropower facilities (Credit: NOAA Fisheries). Chinook salmon in the holding pool at Keswick Dam (Credit: Steve Martarano, USFWS).

 

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Innovative Fishway Entrance to Enhance Fish Passage

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

USGS, in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts, was awarded an Innovative Solutions for Fish Passage at Hydropower Dams grant by 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.

 

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Understanding Downstream Fish Passage in the Willamette River Basin

Science Center: Western Fisheries Research Center

Efforts are currently underway to improve fish passage conditions at dams in the Willamette Valley, Oregon, and enhance populations of anadromous fish species. USGS, in cooperation with 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.

 

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

Science Center: Western Fisheries Research Center

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 (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.