Finding their way

New website helps public remove fish passage barriers

a man stands in a creekbed by a small bridge.

After the barrier was removed, crews completed the stream bank restoration and installed a new creek crossing road and bridge on Janes Creek. Credit: Dan Gale/USFWS

By Susan Sawyer
June 30, 2020

Last fall, the California Fish Passage Forum announced the launch of a new web-based tool, FISHPass, to help determine which fish passage barriers to prioritize for removal. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is one of several organizations participating with the Forum to help guide the decision making process for fish barrier removal projects throughout the state.


Fish barrier on Janes Creek prior to removal. Note the elevated culvert and large debris accumulated in the creek below, making it impassable to fish. Photo courtesy of Doug Kelly

There are thousands of fish passage barriers in California, and prioritization methods differ widely on which barriers to remediate. Recognizing the need to ease and possibly standardize this process, the forum created this publicly available tool to provide a state-wide method to assist in making these decisions.

FISHPass allows users to select a geographic area, such as a county, and enter the number of barriers proposed for removal. FISHPass determines the projects that restore the maximum number of stream miles once barriers are removed. Users may also enter a proposed budget for the tool to calculate projects that are most feasible and will restore the most stream habitat.

Alicia Marrs, Forum coordinator, said that while projects improving fish passage have great potential to restore large quantities of habitat, prioritizing barriers for removal can be a difficult task considering the limited financial resources available for restoration projects.

a bridge of debris over a creek.

In the summer of 2012, a survey crew from the Salmon River Restoration Council discovered a large, messy blockage on Taylor Creek in remote Siskiyou County. The landowners were concerned how juvenile salmon in the creek would be able to migrate downstream. Credit: USFWS

“FISHPass is available for the public to use at no cost and was designed to be a living tool that the Forum will continually improve and refine,” said Marrs. “We’re excited to see how our partners will use FISHPass to shape restoration priorities within their watersheds.”

Wild populations of anadromous fish such as Pacific salmon and steelhead trout have declined sharply in the last 50 years. Barriers to passage have been identified as one issue facing these fish. Human-caused impairments to fish movement can include road construction or logging debris, dams and undersized or collapsed culverts. This prevents adult fish from reaching suitable upstream spawning habitat and young fish from reaching cooler waters during the summer.

Service fisheries biologist Alex Jones said that removing individual barriers to in-stream fish passage is a simple way to restore large sections of suitable fish habitat. This can help threatened populations recover and may help improve recreational fishing opportunities.

a free flowing stream.

The project on Taylor Creek was a high priority for FISHPass. In 2016, crews removed decades of debris and constructed a new heavy duty bridge in a more stable downstream location. Credit: USFWS

“We believe FISHPass will help the Service and our partners objectively prioritize barrier removal projects,” said Jones. “The tool is an innovative way to aid restoration efforts while providing maximum benefits to anadromous fish throughout California.”

FISHPass is a collaborative effort between the Forum and the National Fish Passage Program. The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission provided technical and GIS support throughout the development of the tool, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife supports the barrier database that feeds into FISHPass. The National Marine Fisheries Service and non-profit organizations such as CalTrout and Trout Unlimited provide data, working to address fish barriers throughout California.

For more information, please visit the links below:

California Fish Passage Forum website

FISHPass barrier assessment tool:

FISHPass barrier assessment database: California Fish Passage Assessment Database


Story Photo

Susan Sawyer

About the writer...

Susan Sawyer is the Klamath Basin public affairs officer, covering the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Klamath Falls and Yreka Fish and Wildlife Offices. She was raised in the California desert gaining a deep appreciation of the outdoors on family vacations to the Pacific coast, Sierras and Redwood forests.

She has worked in Arizona, Nevada, Montana, Idaho and now Oregon, where she spends her free time landscaping for wildlife, continuing to learn from and about nature and spoiling her animals.

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