Tube fishway technology will get fish up and over those dam walls

Tube fishway technology will get fish up and over those dam walls
Credit: University of New South Wales

Engineers and scientists at UNSW Sydney have come up with an ingenious way to get fish past dam walls, weirs and other barriers blocking their migration in Australian rivers.


The so-called tube fishway is a low-cost and low-energy installation that works by pumping fish at high velocity—protected by a cushion of water—through a tube running over the obstructing barrier to deliver them safely into the water on the other side.

And following a successful demonstration of a prototype recently at the UNSW Water Research Laboratory in Manly Vale, the group is in talks with Parramatta City Council in Sydney about the possibility of installing one at the Marsden St Weir.

Tube fishways have the potential to reconnect populations of fish throughout Australia—and potentially the world—where barriers like dams and weirs in rivers are believed to be linked to a massive decline of freshwater fish stocks over the past half century.

Professor Richard Kingsford, Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science, from UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, says dams, weirs and other river barriers have disrupted fish reproduction cycles the world over, as many river fish are prevented from migrating to spawn.

“Freshwater fish populations have declined by more than 80 percent over the last four decades across the globe. This is partly due to the hundreds of thousands of our dams, weirs and barriers stopping their movements,” he says.

“Just in the Murray-Darling Basin rivers alone, there are 10,000 barriers of all kinds throughout the river system which have contributed to native fish numbers declining by 90 percent. If we could reconnect our rivers and give fish the ability to navigate our rivers safely, we would see more breeding and healthier native fish populations in our rivers.”

Engineers and scientists in Australia have grappled with the problem for more than a century, and constructed many different types of fishways, helping fish to navigate past barriers. But these are expensive to install and maintain with some large ones often failing to adequately do the job.

With this in mind, UNSW scientists and engineers put their heads together to come up with a relatively inexpensive solution, easily adaptable to the local environment and leaving only a small carbon footprint.

Using an approach conceived by Adjunct Associate Professor John Harris from UNSW’s Centre for Ecosystem Science, UNSW Engineering’s Adjunct Professor Bill Peirson and Dr. Stefan Felder developed, built and tested a prototype of the tube fishway at Manly Vale.

On a rugged slope behind the campus building, two large tanks were each connected by two pipes that pumped water to and fro. In the tank at the bottom of the slope, a small Australian bass fish was coaxed into a chamber before being propelled at high speed in oxygenated water through a Perspex tube into a tank further up the slope—a whole eight metres higher in elevation.

“A key issue is attracting fish into a pipe so that we can move them up the

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