March 1, 1999 — a great
day in Virginia history!
On that day, the
Department of Game and Inland Fisheries opened the fishway at
Bosher's Dam on the James River for its inaugural spawning run,
providing fish with access to 137 miles of the James River and
168 miles of its tributaries. Not since 1823 could migrating
fish, such as American shad, swim past the dam!
Bosher's Dam and
Fishway, James River, Richmond, Virginia
times, Virginia's waters teemed with shad and herring.
Scientific and anecdotal evidence shows that American shad once
migrated up the James River to sites near its headwaters at
Eagle Rock. Early European settlers made particular reference of
these numbers, noting that "[t]he rivers abound with fish both
small and great. The sea-fish come into our rivers in
March...great schools of herring come in first; shads of a great
bigness follow them" (Alexander Whitaker, 1613). The economic
value of the shad fishery in Virginia waters increased steadily
throughout the 1800s and peaked in the early 20th century.
However, the 1800s also brought about the construction of many
large dams, including Bosher's Dam in 1823, for water power for
grist mills, canal systems and other developments of the
Industrial Age. These dams barred migratory fishes from their
historic upstream spawning habitats, reducing the number of fish
that returned each spring. When the American shad fishery
crashed in 1994, a moratorium was placed on their harvest. While
such corrective actions can be implemented immediately to help
restore declining fish populations, removal of dams and the
return of fish to hundreds of miles of spawning habitats can
take years to accomplish.
The work of
creating new fish passages in the James River began in Richmond
in 1989, when Manchester and Brown's Island dams were breached
with explosives. Since the Belle Isle Dam had been "naturally"
breached during a prior storm, the next challenge was at
Williams Island Dam. A 30-foot wide by 2.5-foot deep notch was
cut into the dam in 1993, opening another 2.6 miles of spawning
habitat to the base of Bosher's Dam. While these breaches, or
gaps, took a great deal of planning and financial support from
many partners, moving fish around Bosher's Dam would present the
most significant challenge to date on the James River.
While short notches or gaps had been used successfully in the
other Richmond dams, passing migratory fish around the 10-foot
high Bosher's Dam required biologists to consider a much more
substantial fishway. After careful evaluation of the site and
consultation with other experts, biologists and engineers
determined that the most appropriate structure would be a
"vertical slot" fishway.
with any fishway, one of the primary objectives is to provide
smooth flowing water that attracts fish away from the frothy
turbulent waters flowing over the dam. Fishways are positioned
and designed to maximize this "attraction flow," guiding fish
into the fishway. In some passage facilities, such as this one,
resting places must also be provided to prevent the fish from
tiring out before they reach the upper end. Once fish enter the
Bosher's fishway, they negotiate their way through a series of
13 "baffles" and resting pools as they make their ascent. The
term "vertical slot" refers to the 16-inch gap in the baffle
wall that divides on pool from the next. Fish can easily swim
through the vertical slots, gaining 9 inches each time they move
from pool to pool. Near the upper end, they pass by a 4-foot
wide by 7-foot high counting window before exiting the fishway
into the river above the dam. A webcam has been stationed at the
counting window to give visitors a peek at this incredible
journey. At the Bosher's fishway, there is also a trap near the
window that allows biologists to sample fish as needed.
this project, a small but vital 3-agency team continued to keep
the vision alive. The James River Association, without whose
efforts this project would not have been accomplished,
spearheaded the fundraising efforts. The Department of Game and
Inland Fisheries continued to coordinate the project and
obtained (and matched) several federal grants. The City of
Richmond — the current owner of the dam — also provided funding
and personnel to the initiative. Ultimately, funding for the
$1.5 million fishway was secured through grants, donations, and
contributions from federal, state, city, and county agencies;
corporations and foundations; and citizens... an excellent
example of public-private partnerships!
- 1995 – U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service Hydraulic Engineering Department provided
conceptual plans; final engineering and design completed by J.K.
Timmons and Associations.
- September 1996 -
Bids received to complete fishway construction.
- June 1997 -
English Construction (Lynchburg) broke ground for construction.
- Spring 1998 -
High water and abnormal flood frequency plagued the project and
delayed completion; spring spawning run missed.
- Fall 1998 to
Spring 1999 - Construction resumed and continued without incident.
- March 1, 1999 -
The completed fishway opened to allow fish passage from below the
dam to above the dam.
- April 20, 1999 -
Dedication ceremony of the fishway.
- Spring 1999 - An
estimated 61,419 fish moved through the new fishway, including 185
- Spring 2000 - An
estimated 112,825 fish moved through the fishway during its second
season, including 375 American shad.
- Spring 2001 -
Cooler-than-average water temperatures delayed the beginning of the
anadromous fish runs, but fish are moving through the fishway.
contributors in this project included:
- James River
- City of Richmond
- National Fish
and Wildlife Foundation
Protection Agency-Chesapeake Bay Program
- National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration
- National Marine
- U.S. Fish and
- Virginia Marine
Saltwater Recreational Fishing Development Fund
- Marine Fishing
- County of
- Mary Morton
- Richard S.
- Ruth Camp
- Friendship Fund
- Elis Olsson
- Philip Morris
- CSX Corporation
- private Richmond
anglers, conservationists and other individuals!