Henriette I. Jager, Michael J. Parsley, Joseph J. Cech, Jr., Robert L. McLaughlin, Patrick S. Forsythe, Robert F. Elliott, and Brenda M. Pracheil
The majority of large North American rivers are fragmented by dams that interrupt migrations of wide-ranging fishes like sturgeons. Reconnecting habitat is viewed as an important means of protecting sturgeon species in U.S. rivers because these species have lost between 5% and 60% of their historical ranges. Unfortunately, facilities designed to pass other fishes have rarely worked well for sturgeons. The most successful passage facilities were sized appropriately for sturgeons and accommodated bottom-oriented species. For upstream passage, facilities with large entrances, full-depth guidance systems, large lifts, or wide fishways without obstructions or tight turns worked well. However, facilitating upstream migration is only half the battle. Broader recovery for linked sturgeon populations requires safe “round-trip” passage involving multiple dams. The most successful downstream passage facilities included nature-like fishways, large canal bypasses, and bottom-draw sluice gates. We outline an adaptive approach to implementing passage that begins with temporary programs and structures and monitors success both at the scale of individual fish at individual dams and the scale of metapopulations in a river basin. The challenge will be to learn from past efforts and reconnect North American sturgeon populations in a way that promotes range expansion and facilitates population recovery.
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