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Kansas State Board of Agriculture
First Biennial Report


Fish Ways.


The first and most important principle necessary to the success of fish culture in any State, is to give the fish freedom to go to their natural spawning-grounds, the head-waters of streams. Prevented from doing this by impassable dams, or other obstructions thrown across streams, they become wasteful, and in time will disappear below as well as above the obstruction. It is as natural for fish to ascend the stream to deposit their spawn as for birds to seek the tree-top in which to rear their young. With these facts before us, founded on close observation of the pisciculturist, the importance of constructing dams which will permit fish to ascend the streams is quite apparent.

A fish-way is but an artificial imitation of the means by which river fish pass up rapids in their yearly migrations. The fish in their upward course reach the foot of the rapids; here they rest awhile, then they shoot up a slight distance, and again rest behind some rock, where they gather strength to make another leap, and continue in this manner until the fall is passed.

(From Report of S. F. Baird, United States Fish Commissioner.)

To construct a fish-way, take a long box, long enough to reach to the bottom of the dam at an angle of forty-five degrees, fasten to its place, one end resting on the top of the dam, the other end in the centre of the deep water below the dam. Supposing the box to be sixteen feet long, four feet wide, and two feet high: on the inside of the box pieces of plank, called riffles, are fastened transversely about three feet apart; each riffle is about a foot high, and extends about two-thirds of the way cross. If the first riffle is fastened to the right side of the box, and at a right angle with the side of the box, the next, three feet above and extending about thirty inches across it, and so on alternately until the top is reached, the water entering the top of this box, is diverted from right to left in its course, forming eddies or resting-places for the fish in their upward course.

Illustrating the necessity of fish-ways, we might mention that after the construction of the Lawrence dam, fish above Lawrence became very scarce; but after the dam was washed out, in May, 1877, fish at once became abundant in the Kaw and tributaries above that point.

Upon the proper construction of fish-ways, more than anything else, depends the increase of the fish now occupying our streams, and will materially aid in stocking our waters with a better class of fish. The high waters of 1877 prevented many owners of water power from placing fish-ways in their dams, while others without the necessary faith, and in the absence of any plan adopted by law, have constructed fish-ways, many of which will be wash-aways. The fact of there being no plan adopted by the Legislature, and the Commissioner not having authority to furnish a plan, and desiring to have a fish-way in reality — not in name — is my excuse for not prosecuting parties, making expense and trouble, and in the end doing an injury to the "cherished cause." I decided to wait, with the hope that the Legislature would take an interest in the helping and perfecting the art of fish culture in our great State, the cost of which is very small compared to the benefits arising therefrom.

The decision of the Supreme Court of the United States on the subject of dams and other obstructions in streams and rivers, in the celebrated case of The Holyoke Waterpower Co. v. Lyman et al., is so brief and clear on this subject that I will here give it. The court says: "Persons owning the whole of the soil constituting the bed and banks of the stream are entitled to the whole use and profits of the water opposite their land, whether the water is used as a power to operate mills and machinery, or as a fishery, subject to the implied condition that they shall so use their own right as not to injure the concomitant right of another riparian owner, and to such regulations as the Legislature of the State may prescribe." * * * And again: "Ownership of the banks and bed of a stream gives the proprietor the exclusive right of fishery opposite his land, as well as the right to use the water to operate the mills; but neither the one nor the other, nor both combined, confer any right to erect obstructions on the river to prevent the free passage of fish up and down the river at their accustomed seasons, as such obstructions would impair and ultimately destroy all such rights owned by other proprietors, both above and below the obstructions on the stream."

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts also uses this language: "All persons who may build a dam for mill purposes in a stream annually frequented by fish, do it under an implied obligation to keep sufficient sluices and fish-ways for the free passage of fish at proper seasons."

Our rivers must be kept free from impassable obstructions, so that our fish can obey nature's gracious law in their increase and multiplication. The absolute equality and independent right of all, rich or poor, whether living up-stream or down-stream, to share in the benefits that will certainly ensue from the unrestrained freedom of the finny tribes that occupy our streams, should be maintained.

The estimated cost of substantially-constructed fish-ways will not average over two hundred dollars each, while the benefits arising from their use are perpetual — not to the few alone, but free to all.