The FishPass Project

Fish passage technologies are intended to promote fish movement and connectivity between habitats, often between Great Lakes and their tributaries. Some technologies, such as fish lifts and trap and transfer operations, involve mechanical intervention to pass fish. Other technologies, called fish ladders, are waterways that provide fish the opportunity to pass a barrier by swimming or leaping through an engineered waterway under their own volition. Effectively passing desired fishes through, over, or around a barrier requires an understanding of fish behavior (those that will and will not be passed) and how the aquatic environment (e.g., water flow) interacts and influences those behaviours. This means biologists and engineers must work together to design effective fish passage structures. Although fish passage technologies continue to advance, methods that allow both up- and downstream movement of desirable fishes and blockage of non-desirable fishes remain elusive.

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, in supporting restoration of aquatic habitat connectivity throughout Great Lakes watersheds, but requiring blockage for invasive parasitic sea lampreys at lowermost barriers critical to sea lamprey control, is investigating selective bi-directional fish passage solutions that achieve both objectives.

Launched in 2016, FishPass is an innovative project aimed at re-establishing aquatic connectivity for native species restoration and enhancement of desirable fisheries while simultaneously blocking or removing aquatic invasive species (particularly sea lamprey) from the Boardman River, Traverse City, Michigan. Public consultations led by Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Grand Traverse Band of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians will identify "desirable" species thereby prioritizing needs for passage. The Union Street Dam will be modified or removed and a testing facility with adaptable fishway and nature-like channels will be constructed to allow for natural investigations that will integrate a suite of technologies and techniques for selective fish passage and invasive species control. For example, water velocity barriers, light guidance, video shape recognition, and eel ladder style traps are just some technologies that could be integrated at the facility to sort fish and effectively pass or remove animals.

The project is a real-scale, natural adaptive management experiment in that pre-construction surveys on fish numbers and use of river habitats above and below the facility will be collected, channels will be constructed to restore connectivity where the barrier formerly existed, and then different treatments will be applied within the channel to optimize passage and sorting efficacy. After each experimental cycle, the system will be re-surveyed for animals at, above, and below the facility, and on the basis of survey results, the arrangement of sorting methods can be manipulated to optimize selection. Until the system is functional, the "experiments" will be contained below the upper gates in the fishway channels to prevent unintended releases of non-desirable animals upstream in the Boardman River. Once optimized (~10 year maximum), the system will be converted to a permanent fish passageway for the long term and purposed to pass desirable fishes and remove undesirable fishes. Lessons learned from the optimization phase will be applied to similar rivers and create selective fish passage at new sites. The project could have regional, national, and global implications. Three technical workshops of fishery biologists and engineers will: (1) identify site-specific needs to allow bi-directional selective passage on the basis of the ecology of target species and identify design elements of a novel fish passage system that would meet those needs (Nov 2016); (2) evaluate alternative concept designs to identify a solution that is maximally flexible to accommodate various fish sorting technologies and techniques (May 2017); and (3) evaluate a final site-specific engineering design (early 2018). The FishPass facility will be constructed during 2018-2019. Once constructed, an agenda of research will be implemented to optimize fish passage and removal (2019-2025). Once optimized, the system will become operational to help restore the Boardman River (2026).

A rendering of the Boardman River after the FishPass project

What information will research at FishPass provide?

  • Promotes passage of desirable fishes in the Boardman River as determined by the MIDNR in consultation with the GTB and community input.
  • Maintains status quo to block all upstream passage of invasive sea lamprey in the Boardman River.
  • Increases our understanding of behavioral, physiological, and environmental processes that influence fish movement and identify how this information can be used to improve watershed connectivity and invasive fish management.
  • Develops new techniques and technologies to assist in fish sorting at barriers within the Great Lakes and beyond.
  • Helps the public understand the role and performance of fish passageways and barriers and their role in fishery management of the Great Lakes.
  • Helps the public understand the threat associated with invasive fishes and the role of human landscape alteration on healthy sustainable fisheries and communities.

What are the key features of the FishPass Facility?

  • Location; the Union Street Dam is the lowest barrier to fish movement in the Boardman River and barrier and trapping site for invasive sea lamprey. Ongoing efforts to restore the natural flow of the Boardman River have already led to the removal of one upstream dam and soon removal of two more, opening up a 287 mi2 watershed. Located in the center of Traverse City, public outreach and education with be a major emphasis at the FishPass Facility.
  • Channels; the FishPass Facility will consist of an adaptable fishway channel to test different fish sorting techniques and technologies and a parallel nature-like channel to pass all other river discharges and provide recreational passage opportunities.
  • Length; the FishPass channels will extend nearly 500 feet to match the natural slope of the river between the Union Street and Cass Street Bridges.
  • Design; the adaptable fishway channel will be easily modified and can accommodate many different technologies and techniques for passing desirable fish and blocking and removing undesirable fish.
  • Control; a unique headworks on the fishway channel will allow for complete control of what fish are allowed to pass upstream while the nature-like channel will also prevent any uncontrolled fish passage.
FishPass Workshop members at the Boardman River