Partnerships for fish passage

As a Pathways Student in the Fish Passage Engineer Program, Kevin enjoys working in the field on mission critical projects. Photo Credit: USFWS

As a Pathways student in the Fish Passage Engineer Program, Kevin often works in the field on mission critical projects. Photo Credit: USFWS

Kevin Mulligan is a Pathways Program student working on the Northeast Region’s fish passage engineer team. The fish passage engineering program is the result of a successful partnership between the Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Massachusetts. Today, Kevin shares with us his experiences on the team.

The term “fish passage engineer” may not be the most trending subject in media these days, but for fish species that need access to habitat in order to live, a fish passage engineer can be the difference between finding  successful spawning  sites or, literally, hitting a brick wall.

I was first introduced to the Fish Passage Engineer Team through a partnership between UMass, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. At the time I was working on my graduate studies within the UMass Department of Environmental and Water Resources Engineering. The partnership is designed to give students practical on-the-job experience, and at the same time provide the agencies with academic resources for doing research and having students assist with critical work. As part of the partnership, Service employees teach classes and work with students on real, working projects.  In September 2013, I began a research project at UMass funded by the Hydro Research Foundation.  My adviser, Brett Towler, is a member of the Service’s Fish Passage Engineer Team and an adjunct professor at the university.  In May 2015, once my graduate studies were nearly completed, I joined the team as a Pathways Program intern.

The Holyoke Dam on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts is another location where fish engineers work to move fish upstream to reach spawning habitat. Photo credit: USFWS

The Holyoke Dam on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts is another location where fish engineers work to move fish upstream to reach spawning habitat. Photo credit: USFWS

My primary focus as part of the engineer team is to develop the region’s first ever fish passage engineering design criteria manual. Creating the manual requires integration of numerous scientific and engineering disciplines that include fish behavior, hydraulics, hydrology and hydropower. But for the fish and aquatic species I am working for, the criteria manual means survival.

Kevin visits the Howland Dam bypass in Maine as part of his Pathways experience. Photo credit: USFWS

Kevin visits the Howland Dam bypass in Maine as part of his Pathways experience. Photo credit: USFWS

As a Pathways Program intern some of the perks of working with the fish passage engineering team are visiting fishways throughout scenic New England, participating in technical meetings and learning from professionals actively working in the field. Thanks to my education and the partnership with the Service and USGS I feel equipped to handle these experiences and projects that I am asked to assist with. Specific courses in the fish passage specialization program that have been particularly useful in my work for the partnership are The Design of Fish Passage Facilities, Open Channel Flow, Hydrology, and the Ecology of Fish.

A banner displayed at the Fish Passage Conference held in the Netherlands. Photo credit: USFWS

A banner is displayed at the Fish Passage Conference held in the Netherlands. Organizations from all over the world come together each year to share the latest science in fish passage engineering. Photo credit: USFWS

One of the projects I have been fortunate to work on was developing computational fluid dynamics and physical models to enhance the design of downstream guidance structures for fish passage. In addition, the partnership started an Annual International Fish Passage Conference, to which I have been on the organizing team for the past five years. After being held in Massachusetts at UMass in 2010, the conference took place in Oregon, Wisconsin and The Netherlands. My participation in the conference has allowed me to connect with people in the field of fish passage from all over the world.

I am honored to be part of such an amazing team of fish passage engineers and biologists northeast whose mission is to improve the life of aquatic organisms in our rivers and oceans. My time with the Service and the work through the partnership has truly been educational and personally rewarding. Undoubtedly, the additional knowledge and skills I’ve gained will be useful throughout my career.

Learn more about the Fish Passage Engineering partnership with UMass.

Learn more about fish passage.

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