Northwest Passage: Fairmount Fish Ladder Helps Shad Swim Up The Schuylkill

There's a lot of traffic on the Schuylkill, but for once it's not a backup on I-76. Thanks to the Fairmount fish ladder (as well as upstream fish ladders and dam removals), shad are once again migrating up the Schuylkill River to spawn. The resurgence of shad indicates improved ecological conditions, as shad populations decimated by pollution in the early 20th century began making a comeback in the 1980s. Fish ladders such as the one constructed at the Fairmount Dam (pictured above) four years ago provide a stairway to the Schuylkill, whose main stem and tributaries are the shad's native habitat. A recent report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (which sponsors the fish ladder along with the Philadelphia Water Department) points to the project's success:

"The data shows the project has been an incredible success," said Project Manager Terry Fowler, a planner with the Philadelphia District. "Certainly the fish have voted and we're happy with the result." Fowler said the functionality of the rebuilt ladder was a vast improvement over what existed previously. The District rebuilt the entrance and exit gates, chamber pools, and a structure to help fish find the entrance to the passage. Project Biologist Mark Eberle said the features help simulate the natural experience a migratory fish would have when traveling upstream.

The graph below indicates the significant impact the fish ladder has had on the number of shad passing through—more than 3,000 in 2011:

Learn more about what PWD is doing to monitor fish populations and restore fish habitat.