Fairmount Dam Fishway on the Schuylkill
A Boon to Migrating Fish Species

In May 2009 a new fish passage facility at the Fairmount Dam was completed, after seven years of research and construction. In honor of this event, I have created several "fish" pages for Philly H20. Thanks to Philadelphia Water Department staffers Lance H. Butler (Office of Watersheds) and Joseph A. Perillo (Bureau of Laboratory Services) for providing the images and information used on these pages. Links to other fish pages, on this site and elsewhere, are listed below. Below those links you will find background on the new fishway, as well as photos from Lance and Joe, and fascinating videos captured by the FishCam at the old fish ladder. Updated videos, photos, and other information will be posted here as they become available.

2008 PowerPoint presentation on new Fishway by Lance Butler and Joe Perillo (PDF, 23 mb)
2005-2006 Fish Counts by Species at Fairmount Fish Ladder (PDF, 826 kb)
Philadelphia Water Resources Monitoring Program, from PWD and USGS (click here)
Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center FishCam -- refreshes every 8 seconds (click here)
Photographs from Philadelphia Anglers Club (click here) and the PAC Website
Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission homepage and Fish Consumption Advisory (PDF)
Information and trailer for Hooked, a 14 minute video on Philadelphia's urban anglers.

The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers

Compiled by Adam Levine
Historical Consultant
Philadelphia Water Department
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An otter visited the fishcam in March 2005
Joe Perillo displays an American shad
Jason Cruz of PWD w ith a striped bass

Click here
for large, readable version of this interpretive sign, posted at the fishway site on the west end of the Fairmount Dam.


Migration of anadromous (or migrating) fish species (such as the American shad) into freshwater tributaries along the Delaware River Basin
has been historically impeded by dams and other structures, past which the fish cannot swim. By minimizing upstream fish passage to areas of spawning habitat, these structures thereby minimize successful reproduction of these species in freshwater tributaries.

Anadromous species migrating into the Schuylkill River shared the same fate between 1821, when the Fairmount Dam was completed, and 1979, when the first fish ladder was completed on the western side of the river, across from the Fairmount Water Works. Biologists expected this link between the lower Schuylkill River and its upstream tributaries to provide additional grounds for successful reproduction, but due to design and maintenance limitations the function and efficiency of the original Fairmount Fish Ladder was questionable at best.

Great advances in fishway technology have been made in the past 30 years, and these have been incorporated into a new Fairmount Fishway, opened in May 2009. A joint project of the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), United States Army Corps Of Engineers (USACE), and other federal, state and local agencies, the new fish passage includes structural modifications, increased attraction flow and real-time
monitoring capabilities. An intensive biomonitoring strategy, utilizing a video camera, will aid the assessment of fish populations and fish
passage efficiency by migratory and resident species. Another important aspect of the new fishway will be its amenities for onsite educational programs, which will increase public awareness and interest in the life of the river.

The Fairmount Dam Fishway is situated within the Philadelphia city limits on Fairmount Park property, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania,
13.6 km (about 8 miles) upstream from the Schuylkill's confluence with the Delaware River. The Fairmount Dam marks the uppermost reach of the tides on the Schuylkill. The improved fish passage at Fairmount will benefit the entire freshwater ecology and economy of the Schuylkill River watershed. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission surveys downstream from the ladder indicate that American shad are returning to the Schuylkill in ever increasing numbers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fishway estimates that with the improvements, 200,000 to 250,000 American shad (Alosa sapidissima) per year may utilize this structure during upstream migrations. The Schuylkill, it has been estimated, has habitat to support 700,000 to 800,000 shad.

While shad is the target species for this project, blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis), striped bass (Morone saxatilis), American eel
(Anguilla rostrata) and other species will also benefit from it In addition, resident fish species will be better able to reach suitable spawning and nursery habitats, and benefit from a larger forage base provided by juvenile anadromous species. The new fishway will provide access for migratory fish to approximately 12.2 miles of river, up to the Flat Rock Dam north of Manayunk. Beyond that point, a broader Schuylkill
River fish passage plan aims to restore fish passage from the confluence with the Delaware River to Kernsville Dam in Berne, Pa. (covering 100 river-miles) by either removing dams or building new fish passage facilities.

Click thumbnail for larger image.

Fish captured on the video at the Fairmount Fish Ladder, 2005-2006
New videos will be posted as they are provided.
NOTE: Videos range up to 2 mb.
To view the FishCam on the web, click here.

American shad and American shad
Quillback, Walleye, Smallmouth bass
Common carp, Gizzard shad, Quillback, Smallmouth bass
American eel
White sucker
Common carp
Gizzard shad and Gizzard shad school
Hybrid striped bass
Largemouth bass
Striped bass
Flathead catfish
Northern water snake
Trout (feeding)

Left to Right: Joe Perillo with large striped bass; Lance Butler with an invasive flathead catfish; a river herring.


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Website by Panacea Design and Adam Levine
Page last modified June 24, 2009