Fish and Aquatic Conservation

Fish Passage Projects at Work: On the ground and in the water

The National Fish Passage Program (NFPP) is a voluntary program which provides financial and technical assistance to reconnect aquatic habitats through the removal of barriers. The NFPP conducts projects in partnership with state and federal agencies, non-government organizations, universities, and tribes to benefit species and communities.

The NFPP is the only U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) program that focuses solely on issues surrounding aquatic barriers and restoration of waterway connectivity. Staff works on a local level to achieve results for the species and for communities and partners.

Examples of Funded Projects Include:

Water diversion - Hartland Dam site before removal in Delta, Colorado. Photo Credit: USFWS

Culvert replacement

One of the top funded projects by the NFPP are road stream crossings. In Gustavus Alaska, the NFPP has replaced a perched and undersized culvert with a bridge. Before this culvert became a barrier, fish species such as Dolly Varden, coho salmon, and threespine stickleback were prevalent in the system. In recent years, that has not been the case because of the culvert. The new bridge now allows important species to migrate to their historical rearing habitats and provides a safer road stream crossing for vehicle traffic.

Lock and Dam #6 on the Green River in Brownsville, KY was removed in April of 2017. Photo Credit: USFWS

Dam removal

Lock and Dam #6 on the Green River in Brownsville, KY was removed in April of 2017. Originally built in 1904 to enhance commercial traffic, it had long since outlived its usefulness and created more damage than good to the river. The removal has helped restore the Green River to its natural diversity. The area that was once home to numerous aquatic species will once again be available to them. More

Water diversion

Built in 1881 to divert river water to an irrigation canal in Delta, Colorado, the owners sought to upgrade the six foot-high dam. In addition to upgrades, they worked with partners and the USFWS to re-establish upstream and downstream migration of Colorado River endangered fish and allow boaters to pass instead of requiring them to portage this safety hazard. The project promotes recovery of native fish by extending their upstream range by 15 miles, and offers reliable quality whitewater for kayaks, canoes and rafts. The Hartland Dam site was the first documented built fish passage facility for slow-swimming species. For more information click the link. More

Natural rockramps

Frankenmuth, Michigan, a popular tourist destination, is located on the Cass River and is known for its German fare, river boat cruises, and Christmas themed shops. Running right through the middle of the community is a dam which is now home to one of the largest fish passage rock ramps in the Midwest. Frankenmuth’s fish passage project reconnected native fish of the Saginaw Bay to more than 73 miles of significant spawning areas. The fish passage project also creates new opportunities for recreation and ecotourism that add to the already robust tourism industry in Frankenmuth. Watershed-wide the project supports larger efforts to improve water quality, increase and sustain recreational fishing, and for the area to be a successful and sustainable hub for tourism. More

Looking downstream of the Howland Dam bypass. Photo Credit: USFWS

By-pass channels

It was 17 years in the making but with the completion of the Howland Dam bypass channel, the sea run fish can now swim 2000 miles up the Penobscot River in Maine for the first time in over a 200 years. The dam was not slated for removal, yet there were many stakeholders that wanted to see fish passage occur. Partners convened and worked with the stakeholders to design and construct a natural bypass channel that will allow fish to swim up and past the dam. The bypass is successfully allowing fish to pass to valuable spawning and rearing habitats. More

The tribal youth constructed low water crossings on their lands. Photo Credit: USFWS

Low water crossings

A low-water crossing is a lowered bridge or roadway that is purposely meant to have water pass over the top of it. In times of high flows, it is not passable to vehicle traffic. These crossings are used in lower water flow areas where fish can pass as well as vehicle traffic. In 2016, the Cochiti - Pueblo tribe worked with the USFWS to host a tribal YCC group. The tribal youth constructed low water crossings on their lands providing the fish better access and teaching the tribal youth about the resources and fish passage. More

Fish Passage Training

Understanding how to look at fish passage and design infrastructure for fish and aquatic organisms is not always simple. Many times the NFPP engineers and biologists will hold workshops and trainings to teach stakeholders about fish passage and how to design for fish passage. These workshops can occur throughout the U.S. and in some cases in other countries. Our fish passage engineers have been known to even travel to Thailand and help with large fish passage issues along the Mekong River. In particular the engineers help educate people on how to address their fish passage issues.

Levee breach

Working with the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee (LMRCC) and Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), the USFWS has strategically worked to restore access to wetlands along the mighty Mississippi. Working with LMRCC, ACOE, and Wildlife Mississippi to notch a hole in dike 2 on Island 70 to restore flow to a 3.5 mile long channel at Island 70. This channel connects the Mississippi to vital spawning and rearing habitat for the fisheries community. More

Research flume used for fish needs and fish passage. Photo Credit: USFWS


The National Fish Passage Program supports research on fish species needs for barrier passability. The USFWS Bozeman Technology Center in MT, is home to a state of the art flume system that measures a specie’s ability to pass various flow and temperature conditions. The information allows our engineers and biologists to design and build the best passability system for target species. Current research is aimed at the arctic grayling. This species has declined in numbers due to water diversion dams in their home streams. Bozeman Technology Center, in conjunction with NFPP biologists and engineers, have developed small fishway systems to pass the arctic grayling over the water diversion dams. More

Inventories and Assessments

Fisheries biologists in the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office’s work with local and state partners to locate potential barriers and then assess. Assessments to determine if they are passable by fish are done by developing stream profiles, hydrologic analysis, and species richness in the area. In the Northeast, a protocol has been developed and information is entered into a regional database that can be used to determine priority areas to conduct fish passage projects. More

Other types of projects funded by NFPP include: