USACE Buffalo District Constructs Emerald Shiner Passage Structure

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has completed construction of a novel fish passage structure along the Niagara River at Broderick Park in Buffalo, New York, and early monitoring results indicate preliminary project success in helping emerald shiner move upstream.

The project, known as the Emerald Shiner Demonstration project, was built between November 2021 and February 2022 to overcome an obstacle to the passage of emerald shiner, a very small but critically important preyfish.

Pre- and post-construction monitoring was conducted to document the change in emerald shiner passage and will extend through the early winter of 2022, but the preliminary results are very positive. In May 2022, the USACE monitoring team noted significant numbers of emerald shiner, where few-to-none were noted in the pre-construction monitoring, and underwater video footage readily shows schools of emerald shiner moving throughout the constructed fish passage structures. As monitoring continues, the potential groundwork has been established to look at extending the project along the remaining ~700 feet of seawall at Broderick Park.

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The emerald shiner is a keystone species in the Niagara River and Lake Erie food web, serving as an important food source for larger fish and birds that make up this complex, local ecosystem. Through a century of industrialization, the Niagara River channel has narrowed, and the current vertical sheet pile seawalls create water velocities that differ from historic natural conditions and exceed the swim capacity of emerald shiners. In addition, the Niagara River is designated as one of 26 Areas of Concern across the Great Lakes, with an identified fish population Beneficial Use Impairment.

The identification of this fish passage barrier follows an early phase of study in partnership between the USACE-Buffalo District, the City of Buffalo, SUNY at Buffalo, Great Lakes Center of SUNY Buffalo State, the Niagara Greenway Commission, and Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper. Engineers and biologists from USACE Buffalo District worked with our partners at the University at Buffalo to design the novel fish passage structure for the purpose of allowing emerald shiner passage upstream. It was built at a cost of $1.6M under the authority of the Economy Act, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

Utilizing innovative partnerships and novel designs, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to restore areas of concern and improve waterways and ecosystems of binational importance.

This article originally appeared in the 2023-2024 edition of America’s Engineers: The People, Programs, and Projects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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