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Reopening Fish Passage

In 2013, 33 miles of fish passage were restored. This brings the total to 2,576 miles, or 92 percent of the goal.

Fish Passage Progress (2013) in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Map: Fish Passage Progress (2013) in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Date created: Mar 27 2014 / Download

Fish passage is a key component to the restoration of anadromous fish (shad and river herring) in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. These fish are blocked from much of their historic spawning areas, which included waters over 200 miles from the Bay. Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia have set goals to provide fish passage to make much of those historic spawning areas once again accessible to migratory fish. Other species that benefit from the unblocking of streams include eels, native species such as brook trout and other resident species.

July 27, 2011

What are American shad and why are they important to the Chesapeake Bay? Bruce Vogt from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains how the watershed’s shad population has changed over time and what scientists are doing to restore the anadromous fish to our waterways.

Learn more about shad in the Chesapeake Bay Program’s online Field Guide.


Dams, culverts and other barriers block migratory fish from reaching their spawning grounds and reduce habitat for local fish in streams, creeks and rivers. These barriers are being removed or new lifts, ladders and passageways are being installed to allow fish to swim upstream.

Priority is given to fish passage restoration projects that open large stretches of habitat, remove dams, enhance migratory fish passage, and remove impediments in streams that were previously affected by acid mine drainage. Many of these projects also restore the flow of waterways and reduce sediment accumulation.


  • By 2014, open 2,807 miles of habitat to migratory and resident fishes in the watershed portions of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
  • Between 2005 and 2014, complete 100 projects and open 1,000 miles of river and stream habitat. Dam removal projects opening high quality habitat are a priority.

Amount completed since 1988 (baseline year)

2,576 miles

Amount completed in 2013

33 miles

Additional Information

Dams, culverts and other obstructions currently block more than one thousand miles of fish spawning habitat on Bay tributaries. Anadromous fish, such as American shad and river herring, must have access to freshwater streams and rivers. Fish passages help these fish swim past dams and other blockages to reach upstream freshwater spawning habitat.

The Bay Program’s fish passage efforts are long-standing and generally successful.

  • From 1988 through 2005, Bay Program partners opened 1,841 miles of fish passage, surpassing their original 1,357-mile restoration goal.
  • In early 2005, the partners committed to increasing the restoration goal to 2,807 miles by 2014.
  • The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, scheduled to be signed in summer 2014, will include a new fish passage outcome: “During the period of 2011-2025, restore historical fish migratory routes by opening 1,000 additional stream miles, with restoration success indicated by the presence of blueback herring, alewife, American shad, Hickory shad, Brook Trout and/or American eel.”
  • A new “Fish Passage Prioritization Tool” has been developed to track progress toward the new outcome.  When this indicator is updated with 2014 data, it will reflect mileage calculated using the new tracking tool in order to measure progress toward the new outcome.
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