Fish Passage

Removing dams or installing fish lifts allows migratory fish to return to upstream habitats and lets resident fish move freely throughout the region's rivers.

Use the map above to learn about projects that have opened streams to the movement of migratory fish.

Fish Passage

Between 1989 and 2011, 2,510 stream miles were opened to the migration of fish in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the Chesapeake Bay Program adopted a goal to open an additional 1,000 miles to migratory fish from this 2011 "baseline." As of 2017, 1,236 additional miles have been opened, marking a 124 percent achievement of this goal. Fifty-two percent of these miles were opened in Pennsylvania. Forty-six percent were opened in Virginia, and the remaining two percent were opened in Maryland.


Miles of rivers and streams opened to fish passage between 2012 and 2017

The removal of dams, culverts and other barriers from streams across the watershed allows shad, herring and other migratory fish to move between fresh- and saltwater habitats, which is critical if these fish are to reach their historical spawning grounds. In fact, the abundance of some of these species in the region depends on streams that are open to their movement.

Once one of the most valuable fisheries in the Bay, shad populations have declined in recent decades due to pollution, historic overfishing and the construction of dams. While shad abundance has increased from 11 percent of the Chesapeake Bay Program's goal in 2000 to 38 percent of this goal in 2016, not all rivers have seen a consisent rise in the fish. Shad populations surpassed restoration goals in the Potomac River—thanks to improvements in water quality, a resurgence in underwater grass beds, moratoriums on shad harvest, an increase in habitat available to migratory fish, stocking efforts that reprint fish to rivers and kick-start local populations, and the overall suitability of the Potomac as shad habitat—but remain negligible in the upper James and Susquehanna and variable in the lower James, Rappahannock and York. Some variability is natural, but the continued scarcity of shad in the upper James and Susquehanna can be attributed to Bosher's and York Haven dams.