Advances in Fisheries Bioengineering

Using Juvenile Sturgeons as a Substitute for Adults: A New Way to Develop Fish Passage for Large Fish

Boyd Kynard, Martin Horgan, Don Pugh, Erika Henyey, and Tim Parker


Abstract.—Fish ladder designs that pass adult sturgeons are poorly studied. This is partly due to difficulties associated with obtaining and testing large adults. To learn about behavior and swimming of sturgeons in fish ladder environments, we observed juvenile lake sturgeon Acipenser fulvescens to determine the type of ladder opening that fish passed best. We also constructed a short fish ladder (6% slope) using the best opening type and determined the general usefulness of the ladder design to pass juvenile lake sturgeon, pallid sturgeon Scaphirhynchus albus and shovelnose sturgeon S. platorynchus. Lake sturgeon swam upstream through orifice and vertical openings better than through surface weir or weir and orifice openings. Because 37% of the fish hit the orifice when swimming upstream, and also, sturgeon could be damaged passing downstream through an orifice, we focused on testing a ladder design with vertical openings. A side-baffle ladder design that created vertical openings that alternated from side to side showed promise at passing the three species of sturgeons. All lake sturgeons (N = 15), most pallid sturgeons (12 of 22 fish, 55%), and 1 of 3 shovelnose sturgeons ascended the side-baffle design. Also, all sturgeon species moved safely downstream in the side-baffle ladder by passively drifting tail-first. Mean velocity in side-baffle openings was 60–75 cm/s, so sturgeons could use prolonged swimming speed to swim upstream. Vertical openings were wide enough for fish to partially erect their pectoral fins, likely a critical factor for maintaining balance. Our observations suggest that a ladder for adults should have vertical openings, enable fish to swim continuously and not stop at cross-channel barriers, have resting areas, enable fish to safely drift downstream, and enable fish to swim upstream using prolonged swim speed. The study of juvenile sturgeon behavior and swimming ability can contribute to developing a fish ladder for adults. This approach to fish ladder development can be used for other species with large adults.