Evaluating upstream passage and timing of approach by adult bigheaded carps at a gated dam on the Illinois River.
Dams are a conservation threat because they function as barriers to native fish movement; however, they may prevent the spread of invasive species. Invasive bigheaded carps (Hypophthalmichthys spp.) threaten the Great Lakes ecosystem and are advancing towards Lake Michigan via the Illinois River. Navigation dams on the Illinois River may deter bigheaded carps' upstream movement. We investigated the permeability of the Starved Rock Lock and Dam (SRLD), the most downstream gated Illinois River dam, to bigheaded carps' migration by examining the timing of individuals approaching and passing through SRLD in relation to gate openness, tailwater elevation, and water temperature. Using acoustic telemetry of (N=∼104 per year) tagged fish, 13 upstream passages of bigheaded carps occurred through SRLD between 2013 and 2016. Eleven passages occurred through the dam gates and 2 through the lock chamber, indicating deterrents (e.g., CO2) placed in SRLD lock chamber may only limit passage of a small proportion of all fish passing through the lock-and-dam structure. Passages were documented only in 2013 and 2015. Most of the dam gate passages occurred during high water when gates were completely out of the water. Timing of bigheaded carps approaching SRLD was positively correlated with rising water temperature and high tailwater elevation, and all fish approached during late March through mid-September. Movement through dams is rare; modifying gate operations to reduce gate openness during late spring and summer could further reduce the permeability of gated dams such as SRLD to bigheaded carps, slowing their upstream advance.