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Research project: Improving fish passage design in China

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Understanding the swimming performance and behaviour of native fish species to improve fish passage design criteria.

During fish passage design, fish swimming performance data help determine suitable velocity criteria, in turn defining optimal pass dimensions, slope, and number of resting pools. Furthermore, understanding fish behavioural response to hydraulics can improve attraction and passage efficiency.  Collaboration between the University of Southampton, the Institute of Hydroecology, Ministry of Water Resources in Wuhan and the Yichang Three Gorges University, aims to improve fish passage design criteria for native Chinese species. This research currently focuses on the swimming performance and behaviour of bighead carp, a commercially valuable species.

As the Chinese economy continues to develop rapidly, greater demands for energy, combined with renewable energy targets, are resulting in the construction of hydropower dams at an unprecedented rate. To meet 2020 government targets, the equivalent of 13 more Three Gorges Dams are required, on top of over 22,000 large dams already operating. China supports over 900 species of freshwater fish, and although fish passes are increasingly recommended at new dams, designs are still in the early stages of development.

The bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) is one of the four most commercially important fish species in China. However, the wild population has declined dramatically partly due to barriers to migration. Bighead carp spawn in rivers, the eggs and larvae then drift downstream before juveniles move to side channel habitat and lakes to rear. This movement has been restricted by anthropogenic barriers.

The swimming performance of bighead carp is being quantified using a range of laboratory techniques including swim chamber endurance data and volitional passage through velocity barriers. This research will aid in the design of effective fish passes, based on both swimming ability and behaviour, in a species where current understanding is minimal.

Dam China
Dam China
ICER culvert
ICER culvert

Related research groups

International Centre for Ecohydraulic Research
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