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Effects of Dams & Weirs on Fisheries

Effects of Dams & Weirs on Fisheries

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Published by api-3803371
The topic describes how the construction of dams, weirs and barrages are affecting fish and fisheries. Fish migration, fish pass, ladders and impact of farakka barrage on hisla fisheries are also covered.
The topic describes how the construction of dams, weirs and barrages are affecting fish and fisheries. Fish migration, fish pass, ladders and impact of farakka barrage on hisla fisheries are also covered.

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Published by: api-3803371 on Oct 17, 2008
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Effect of Dams and Weirs on Fisheries
Definition: In principle, dams, weirs, barrages and anicuts are created by constructing stone
masonry or concrete bunds across a stream. All the above stated structures raise the water level
for facilitating diversion of flow.

Dams usually comprise a massive concrete wall built across a stream at strategic, usually rocky sites, leading to the formation of vast reservoirs upstream of the bunds, often stretching into hundreds of miles.

A weir; as distinguished from a dam, connotes the discharge of water over its crest or through
wide openings.

The term barrage is of French origin and is often applied to weirs provided with sluice openings. An anicut is a word of Tamil origin meaning \u2018dam building\u2019. It is usually a low barrage built primarily for irrigation purposes.

In U.S.A., any barrier placed across a river is called a dam, the term weir being specifically used to denote the movable wickets or gates forming part of the dam and employed for regulating the flow and the level of water.

Damming of streams led to the formation of impoundments. Dams are constructed for multiple purposesvi z. water storage for irrigation, for industrial and domestic uses, flood control, hydroelectric power generation, for navigation, recreation, development of fisheries and sports fishing.Petts (1989) identified four phases in the era of modern river modification:

Phase-I (from 1750 \u2013 1900): During this time lot of regulation, schemes were implemented in many of the large European rivers for navigation, flood control and utilization of flood plain land.

Phase-II (from 1900 \u2013 1940): This is the period of development of technology to built great dams
specially in North America, Europe and Southeast Asia.

Phase-III (from 1950 \u2013 1980): This is the time of maximum activity in dam building worldwide. The activity reached such a height that in late 1970s dams over 15 m in height were being completed at the rate of over 700 per year world-wide.

Phase-IV (from 1980 till date i.e. up to 1989 when author had reported): The pace of dam building has slowed down to about 500 per year worldwide. It is estimated that by the year 2000, over 60% of the total stream flow in the world will be regulated.

Dr. Subhendu Datta
Sr. Scientist
CIFE, Kolkata Centre, India

Fish and their habitat are considerably affected by river valley projects. Even though lotic sector of the reservoir maintains a fluviatile ecosystem, the lentic zone and the bays sustain a lucstrine ecosystem. The reservoir develops certain features of its own. The dam as a whole alters the river hydrology both up and down streams, making a very new environment. The quality of impounded water varies from watershed to watershed depending on soil quality, human interferences and climate conditions. To a large extend it also depends on the morphometric characters of the reservoirs like shape of the basin, area, mean depth and the regularity of the shoreline. There are positive as well as negative impacts of reservoirs on fisheries.

Positive factors effecting the fish production due to impoundment:

(1). Increased primary productivity: In running water plankton population is generally very low, due to turbidity restricting population of sunlight. Clarity of water is generally very high in most of reservoirs as reservoirs act as silt traps and hence the suspended matter settles down at the bottom. During the filling period of reservoirs (initial 2\u20133 years), there is usually an initial spurt of plankton and benthic communities due to the increased availability of nutrients released from the decay of submerged vegetation. This trophic burst is also because of the saprogenic (like to feed on dead organic matter) lacustrine species filling the vacant niches created by the disappearances of saprophobic (don\u2019t like to feed on dead organic matter) riverine animals. This led to increased primary production. The reservoir yielded very high production after damming the rivers. In most of the Indian reservoirs, from first year of impounding there appeared a phytoplankton bloom which persisted in many reservoirs like Stanley reservoir, Bhavanisagar, Amaravatty etc of southern India.

2. Reservoirs act as sanctuary: There are many instances where reservoirs acted as sanctuaries,
example for this are Barilius bola in Tiaiya (on river Damodar), Osteobrama vigorsii andMyst us
krishnensis in Nagarjuna sagar (on river Krishna) Tor khudree in Sivagisagar (on river Krishna)

etc. The inundated tree tank can act as substrates for thick periphyton (organisms that live by attaching to the stem and leaves of freshwater plants) growth which promotes the production of fishes like Labeo rohita which feed on periphyton.

3. Availability of food is increased: Water level fluctuations in reservoirs benefit the fishery, when water inundates the land area along with vegetations. Abundant food is made available for the fishes due to the decomposition of the vegetation, which releases nutrients to the water for the growth of biotic communities.

Negative role of impoundments due to the construction of dam on fisheries:

The problems, which may arise for fishery due to the construction of a dam, are associated with the unfavourable physico-chemical conditions of water, unavailable food and feeding areas, barrier for fish migration, damage of spawning grounds, excessive growth of aquatic weeds and change in species composition of fish.

(1). Unfavourable physico-chemical conditions: The Physico-chemical conditions of a reservoir depends on the prevailing climatic conditions including air temperature, wind velocity, rain fall etc. Consequent to the dam construction and reservoir formation, substantial morpho-ecological changes occur in the original river both above and below the dam site. These include conversion of running water into a water body of slow discharge characteristics and radical transformation of long established ties and inter-relationship between organisms. During summer, in the static condition of the reservoirs, surface water gets heated up and the bottom layer remains unaffected.


When the bottom is warmed up, decomposition of organic matter is accelerated and the results will be release of nutrients. The thermo cline does not allow a mixing up of rich nutrients at the bottom layer, which was locked up at the bottom. In lotic condition, mixing up of different layers of water permits equal distribution of nutrients. The amount of rain determines the rate of inflow into the reservoir hence plays a vital role in bringing in the replenishment and nutrient enrichment. In reservoirs, inflow rate is affected as the rainfall in the catchment\u2019s of the rivers situated hundreds of kilometer away from the reservoirs.

The productivity of reservoir is determined by its depth also. In shallow reservoirs, the greater part of their water is the euphotic zone facilitating greater and circulation of heat and nutrients and hence higher productivity. In deep reservoirs, the organic matters accumulate in the bottom and become unavailable at the photosynthetic zone. The spillway discharge removes the oxygenated clear water at the top layer leaving the oxygen-deficient, turbid bottom water. The deep dwawdown also removes the decomposing materials including nutrients.

The oligotrophic tendencies shown by some of the reservoirs are mainly due to the poor nutrient status and other chemical deficiencies. In most cases, poor water quality is a direct reflection of the catchment soil. All reservoirs in Kerala show low primary productivity and poor plankton abundance. The reservoirs in Kerala also recorded low specific conductivity (<50

\u00b5mhos) and total alkalinity (<50 mg/l).

(2). Unavailable food: Damming of a river denies the free flow of silt which causes its deposition to the bottom which is unfavourable for benthic invertebrates and this reduces the production of benthivorous fishes. Sudden changes in water level, inflow and outflow directly affect the benthic communitiesviz. plankton, benthos and periphyton pulses which coincide with the least level fluctuations. Storage and release of water from dams are governed by its primary objectives like power generation, irrigation, flood control etc. The spillway discharge dislodges the standing crop of plankton. Lack of plankton affects the planktivorous fish production.

(3). Damage of spawning grounds: The rapid water level fluctuations damage the spawning grounds of many fishes. Silt deposition on fish eggs increases egg mortality and thus decrease spawning success. Aquatic littoral vegetation often provides the very substrate within which or on which eggs are laid and may protect eggs from wave action and erosion. Heavy siltation destroy the nesting materials i.e. aquatic vegetation, therefore, these reservoirs do not provide good spawning habitat for species dependent upon vegetation. Draw down also minimizes the amount of vegetation available for spawning, especially in turbid reservoirs. Many fishes have a tendency to swim against the current and spawn. In reservoir condition, such facility is available only at upper reaches of the reservoir where to some extent lotic condition exists. The fishes, which cannot adapt themselves to the changed lacustrine condition, will perish.

(4). Excessive growth of floating vegetation: The lentic condition of reservoirs encourages the growth of micro as well as macro vegetations. However, Indian reservoirs are almost free from such problems. In African reservoirs, Kariba and Volta, floating aquatic weeds especially water hyacinth even choked the water. This condition prevents the light penetration, loss of nutrients and loss of water due to high rates evaporation. This affects the growth of other biotic communities in the reservoir. Excessive growth of Salvinia (30% of lake area) in lake Kariba leads to the low (6 12 kg/ha/year) fish production.

(5). Change of fish fauna: Riverine fish fauna is subjected to a series of habitat changes such as water current, turbidity levels, fishing pressure, loss of breeding grounds and changes in fish food organisms due to lake formation. The species, which could withstand these changes only survive others perish. In many reservoirs transplantation of fish from other basins take advantage of the vacant niches and the introduction of exotic species led to the changes in species spectrum. Many of the indigenous fish fauna, which were relished by the natives, gave way to the introduced species.

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