Science Excellence

2018 Sam D. Hamilton Award for Transformational Conservation ScienceRachel Carson Award for Exemplary Scientific Accomplishment

Brett Towler, Ph.D

Hydraulic Engineer, Fish and Aquatic Conservation, Northeast Region 5

Dr. Brett Dr. Brett Towler is transforming the conservation of fish, not only in the Northeast, but around the world through his proliferation of high-caliber fish passage science; new, rigorous training opportunities; and new forums for collaboration and information exchange.

Over the past five years, Brett has produced multiple major peer-reviewed journal articles and technical reports, each of which have direct, broad, and lasting management implications to improve fish passage. Among them are the Federal Interagency Nature-like Fishway Passage Design Guidelines for Atlantic Coast Diadromous Fishes, the first guidelines of their kind in the nation, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Region 5 Fish Passage Engineering Design Criteria.  The latter includes accepted criteria, recommendations, and best practices for the design of technical fishways, nature-like fishways, dam removals, culvert replacements, and other fish protection technologies. Both the public and private sectors are using the design criteria, resulting in fish passage designs that are more likely to pass fish and saving the private sector millions of dollars in costly retrofits and replacements.

Recognizing the need to train and recruit new highly trained engineers into the field of ecohydrology, Brett established a specialization in Fish Passage Engineering within the University of Massachusetts Amherst Master of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering degree program. Many of the program's students are now developing and applying science within the Service, USGS, and numerous consulting firms with whom the Service regularly works in the hydropower field.

Also in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, he developed a searchable repository of published fish passage science called Scholarworks that houses a collection of more than 5,300 books, conference proceedings, dissertations and theses, journal articles, reports, and other works.

Scientific knowledge and techniques to improve fish passage are constantly growing, but venues to share the latest developments are limited. To meet this challenge, Brett organized the first fish passage conference. Hundreds of people from around the world now meet annually to exchange advancements on a variety of fish passage topics. He also organized a USFWS Fish Passage Workshop Series to help expand the knowledge base of those participating in the design, operation, and oversight of Service fish passage projects.

The collective results of Brett's scientific achievements are real, significant, and measurable. Fishway designs and alterations based on Brett's published criteria have resulted in orders-of-magnitude increases in fish passage effectiveness that are producing better biological outcomes as well as helping the private sector save millions of dollars in costly retrofits and replacements.

Thanks to Brett and his dedication to improving the quality, quantity, and access to fish passage science, the Service and the conservation community can better apply the latest science so that rivers and inhabiting populations are connected and resilient.

Learn more about Fish Passage Engineering in the Northeast.

Back to Science Awards

Last updated: February 19, 2020

Please send comments, suggestions and questions for this Web site to: Megan Cook at

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Home Page | Department of the Interior  |  | About the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  | Accessibility  | Privacy  | Notices  | Disclaimer  | FOIA