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Construction and approval

The raising and construction of Waterway Barrier Works can have specific legislative requirements for operational work, and can require approvals under legislation. Contact your local and state government before any construction is undertaken to understand requirements.  

Advice from fisheries biologists and engineers should be sought at the start of the planning and design stage, and before any construction, to identify the most appropriate fish passage structure and design specifications.

Prior to construction, check with electricity, water, and telecommunication providers regarding considerations for any existing infrastructure.

Ned Churchward mechanical (fish lock) fishway on the Burnett River Photo by Andrew Berghuis
In addition to the standard disclaimer located at the bottom of the page, please note the Fishways (biopassage structures) disclaimer.
For practical reasons
the addition of new features to existing barriers is the most common strategy for enhancing biopassage.


To ensure fish passage structures meet ecological objectives, accurate construction is essential as modifications or errors during construction can lead to excessive head loss, poor local hydraulics, and compromised passage. On-ground adjustments to a design during construction may affect fish behaviour and passage, and any changes should be authorised by the design team prior to implementation.

Sampling culverts on the Mary River, Queensland, with Fyke Nets Photo by Andrew Berghuis

For concrete structures such as vertical slot or cone fishways to operate as intended, construction teams need to strictly adhere to design specification with only small margins of error. For rock ramp and bypass fishways, where concrete is generally not used, the commissioning process may allow a slightly higher tolerance because of the unpredictable or imprecise nature of rock placement and earthworks compared with concrete.[2]

Dewatering features can be incorporated in fishways, where possible, to facilitate monitoring and maintenance, noting that operators are required to use them.

Before operation, all fish passage structures need to be commissioned before the construction team leaves the site. Adjustments to the structure should be expected due to site-specific issues, minor construction faults, and because the design process can never completely predict field conditions.[7]

Further details on establishment and commissioning are provided in O’Connor et al. (2017).[7]


Fish trap within a vertical slot fishway entrance, used to capture fish entering the fishway (Murray River Barrages, South Australia)
Photo by Ivor Stuart

The function of a fishway cannot be assumed from its hydraulic performance. To confirm that a structure is effectively passing fish, community composition (e.g. size classes, quantities, and species) should be similar upstream and downstream of the fishway. An appropriate fish sampling design and monitoring plan is required to ensure fish passage can be attributed to the fishway. Fishway performance can also be more generally assessed through a reduction in fish accumulations immediately downstream, although it is important to note that fish accumulations may be seasonal, related to stream discharge and/or other factors such as predation.[2]

Fish collection cage at a fishway entrance (Booligal Weir, Lachlan River, New South Wales)Photo by Ivor Stuart

Sampling is typically undertaken using traps covered in mesh of a suitable size for the target species. Traps are typically placed at the entrance and exit of the fishway, with fish captured at the entrance typically representing communities downstream of the barrier, and fish captured at the exit typically representing fish that have passed through the fishway.[2] Traps can also be made to fit into some fishways (e.g. cone and fish lock fishways) to capture fish as they pass through the fishway. Sampling upstream and downstream of the barrier before and after construction of the fish passage structure can also be used to assess and monitor effectiveness.[1][4][5][3][6][9]

Seasonal sampling can be undertaken further upstream and downstream of the structure, using traps, nets and/or electrofishing, to gain a better understanding of the local fish community prior to construction. Post-construction long-term monitoring should be undertaken where possible as changes may occur over a long period of time and may not be present with short-term monitoring techniques.


Trash rack and metal grates (Kerang Weir fishway, Loddon River, Victoria) Photo by Ivor Stuart

There are several operating principles that apply to all fishways:

  • ensure fishway operation enhances fish attraction
  • many fishways do not operate correctly due to basic issues such as dewatering gates closed in the case of a vertical slot fishway
  • simple summaries of fishway operating rules should be provided by the designers
  • the fishway owner needs to prioritise fishway operation
  • fishway operation is essential during periods of peak fish movement (typically spring and summer) and should be documented.[8]


Debris boom (Little Mullaroo River, Victoria)
Photo by Tim Marsden

All fishways require regular maintenance to preserve the functionality of the structure. All fishways collect debris, which can block components of the structure, alter hydraulic conditions and result in physical or behavioural barriers for fish movement. Trash racks can be installed to reduce debris; however, they require regular clearing. Maintenance requirements of trash rack and fishways can be minimised with a floating debris boom mounted in the upstream weir pool. Ideally, fishways should be inspected, checked hydraulically, and dewatered to check for blockages at least annually and ideally before the flow season[8][7].



Lifespan/replacement time

Trash rack on vertical slot fishway, showing debris prevented from entering the fishway (Seven Creeks, Euroa, Victoria)
Photo by Ivor Stuart

The time a fishway is expected to perform without repair (the design life) may vary depending on the site and total capital available. For many structures, the design life is a decision for the asset owner and should be the same as the design life of the structure it is installed on (for example, a design life of 100 years is required by the owners of many dams and weirs and concrete fishways on the Murray River)[7].

Biopassage structures

Most biopassage structures in Queensland are currently designed for fish and include the following types:


  1. ^ Berghuis, AP (2010), Reilly’s Weir Fishway Monitoring Report August 2010, DEEDI, Bundaberg.
  2. ^ a b c Jones, M, O'Connor, JP & Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research (2017), Monitoring the performance of fishways and fish passage works. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 March 2021].
  3. ^ Marsden, T, Berghuis, A & Stuart, I (2017), Fitzroy Barrage Cone Fishway Upgrade and Monitoring Report. [online], Report to the Fitzroy Basin Association, Fisheries Collective. Available at:
  4. ^ Marsden, T (2017), Glenore Weir Cone Fishway - Monitoring Report. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 November 2020].
  5. ^ Marsden, T & Stuart, I (2 January 2019), 'Fish passage developments for small-bodied tropical fish: field case-studies lead to technology improvements', Journal of Ecohydraulics. [online], vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 14-26. Available at: [Accessed 23 February 2021].
  6. ^ Moore, M (2016), Hilliards Creek Rock Ramp Fishway Monitoring Report. [online], Catchment Solutions. Available at:
  7. ^ a b c d O'Connor, J, Stuart, I, Jones, M & Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research (2017), Guidelines for the design, approval and construction of fishways. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 February 2021].
  8. ^ a b O’Connor, J, Stuart, I & Mallen-Cooper, M (2015), 'Performance, operation and maintenance guidelines for fishways and fish passage works', Trove. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 November 2020].
  9. ^ Power, T & McCann, J (2017), Blackrock Creek Fishway –Monitoring Report. [online], Catchment Solutions. Available at:

Last updated: 10 May 2021

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, Queensland (2021) Construction and approval, WetlandInfo website, accessed 18 March 2024. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment, Science and Innovation