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Reopening Fish Passage

In 2015, 77 stream miles were opened to fish passage in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This brings the restoration total to 817 miles since 2011, which is an 82 percent achievement of the 1,000-mile goal.

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.


The Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to several fish species that move between freshwater rivers and the saltier waters of the ocean to spawn. Dams, culverts and other structures can block these migratory fish from reaching their spawning grounds and reduce the amount of habitat available to local fish. Removing dams or installing lifts, ladders, or passageways can reopen river habitat and allow fish like alewife or American shad to swim farther upstream. In restoring the natural flow of waterways, these projects can also reduce the harmful build-up of sediment.


Between 1989 and 2011, 2,510 stream miles were opened to fish passage in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In 2014, the Chesapeake Bay Program set a goal to open an additional 1,000 miles to migratory fish.

Past Goals

In 1989, Bay Program partners adopted a Fish Passage Strategy to remove blockages and provide or restore natural passage for migratory fish. By 1993, partners had identified 2,526 blockages in the watershed. Because this number was so large, partners adopted a “subgoal” to restore 1,356.75 miles of fish passage by 2003.

By the end of 2003, partners had restored 1,436.5 miles of fish passage, surpassing their 1993 goal. In 2005, partners committed to completing 100 new projects that would open 1,000 more miles of fish passage, with an official goal of restoring a total of 2,807 miles of fish passage by 2014.

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