Fish and Aquatic Conservation

Fish Migration, Movement and More!

Arctic Grayling swimming in the Chena River in Fairbanks, Alaska
Arctic Grayling swimming in the Chena River in Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo credit: Ryan Hagerty/USFWS

Did you know, fish migrate too?

There are the marathoners of the fish world, like the Atlantic salmon, which migrate 6,000 miles annually to go back to the rivers where they were born to spawn a new generation of salmon. Others like small darters, need to move as little as a half mile for food.

Whether long-distance swimmers or not, all have something in common. Fish need to migrate or move to get to habitats where they can spawn, feed, find shelter and escape extreme temperatures or too high or low water flows.

Unfortunately, many fish can’t complete their migration because of barriers to fish passage – like dams, road culverts, low water levels and levees. More than 6 million barriers in the U.S. alone keep fish, and other aquatic species like mussels, from reaching their travel destinations. The National Fish Passage Program works to remove or restore barriers to fish passage and reconnect aquatic habitats.

Why help fish migrate?

Fish are an important part of our natural heritage. They also are an important link in our food web as food for wildlife, and when they die, their carcasses can provide nutrients for plants.

Fish and free-flowing rivers are important to people too for recreational opportunities like fishing, boating and wildlife viewing.

Look over the list of migratory fish from across the U.S. Are there any located in your state? Are there fish passage barriers nearby? If you want to learn more on how you can get involved and help with projects to improve fish migration, contact a fish passage coordinator in your area. (Check back often, we will be updating our list)

  • Rio Grande cutthroat trout
  • Sunffbox mussel
  • Steelhead trout
  • Topeka shiner
  • Yazoo darter