A fish ladder, also known as a fishway, fish pass, fish steps, or fish cannon is a structure on or around artificial and natural barriers (such as dams, locks and waterfalls) to facilitate diadromous fishes' natural migration as well as movements of potamodromous species. Most fishways enable fish to pass around the barriers by swimming and leaping up a series of relatively low steps (hence the term ladder) into the waters on the other side. The velocity of water falling over the steps has to be great enough to attract the fish to the ladder, but it cannot be so great that it washes fish back downstream or exhausts them to the point of inability to continue their journey upriver.
Written reports of rough fishways date to 17th-century France, where bundles of branches were used to make steps in steep channels to bypass obstructions.
A pool and weir salmon ladder was built around 1830 by James Smith, a Scottish engineer on the River Teith, near Deanston, Perthshire in Scotland. Both the weir and salmon ladder are there today and many subsequent salmon ladders built in Scotland were inspired by it.
A version was patented in 1837 by Richard McFarlan of Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada, who designed a fishway to bypass a dam at his water-powered lumber mill. In 1852–1854, the Ballisodare Fish Pass was built in County Sligo in Ireland to draw salmon into a river that had not supported a fishery. In 1880, the first fish ladder was built in Rhode Island, United States, on the Pawtuxet Falls Dam. The ladder was removed in 1924, when the City of Providence replaced the wood dam with a concrete one.
As the Industrial Age advanced, dams and other river obstructions became larger and more common, leading to the need for effective fish by-passes.
See also: fish migration
Fish ladders have a mixed record of effectiveness. They vary in effectiveness for different types of species, with one study showing that only three percent of American Shad make it through all the fish ladders on the way to their spawning ground. Effectiveness depends on the fish species' swimming ability, and how the fish moves up and downstream. A fish passage that is designed to allow fish to pass upstream may not allow passage downstream, for instance. Fish passages do not always work. In practice a challenge is matching swimming performance data to hydrodynamic measurements. Swim tests rarely use the same protocol and the output is either a single-point measurement or a bulk velocity. In contrast, physical and numerical modelling of fluid flow (i.e. hydrodynamics) deliver a detailed flow map, with a fine spatial and temporal resolution. Regulatory agencies face a difficult task to match hydrodynamic measurements and swimming performance data.
Further information: Culvert § Fish passage
During the last three decades,[when?] the ecological impact of culverts on natural streams and rivers has been recognised. While the culvert discharge capacity derives from hydrological and hydraulic engineering considerations, this results often in large velocities in the barrel, which may prevent fish from passing through.
Baffles may be installed along the barrel invert to provide some fish-friendly alternative. For low discharges, the baffles decrease the flow velocity and increase the water depth to facilitate fish passage. At larger discharges, baffles induce lower local velocities and generate recirculation regions. However, baffles can reduce drastically the culvert discharge capacity for a given afflux, thus increasing substantially the total cost of the culvert structure to achieve the same design discharge and afflux. It is believed that fish-turbulence interplay may facilitate upstream migration, albeit an optimum design must be based upon a careful characterisation of both hydrodynamics and fish kinematics. Finally the practical engineering design implications cannot be ignored, while a solid understanding of turbulence typology is a basic requirement to any successful boundary treatment conducive of upstream fish passage.