2010 – Nature-like fishways – Are they suitable for Australian conditions?

David Murray

An essential criterion for any new dam project in Australia is to provide for passage of fish past the structure in both the upstream and downstream direction. In recent projects with a relatively high barrier this has been provided by mechanised systems such as locks, lifts or a combination of both.
A nature-like fishway provides for passage of fish past a barrier by applying some of the features of natural streams. The concept has been increasingly applied to fishway designs in North America and Europe. A nature-like fishway will provide variable flow depths, velocities and turbulence across its width and along its length and is constructed using natural materials to simulate the natural stream characteristics. The variable flow conditions coupled with the use of natural materials inherently result in different channel substrates that support the passage of a large range and size of fish species as well as other aquatic species. Where fish habitat has been depleted, a nature-like fishway can also supplement and enhance aquatic habitat.

The performance of nature-like fishways can be difficult to quantify due the very nature of the system. However, qualitative assessments in North America are indicating that a wide range of species are using such fishways and that fish species that were previously extirpated from rivers are again migrating.

The nature-like fishway concept has been applied to in-stream structures up to four metres high in the eastern states of Australia. However, the substantial progress made with this design in North America and Europe has not as yet been applied in this country.
This paper analyses the advantages and disadvantages of nature-like fishways over mechanised systems, such as locks and lifts, and makes an assessment of the suitability of the concept to dams in Australia with relatively high walls.


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