Interstate Anadromous Fish Project

In 1969 the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) began stocking and managing the lower 23 miles of the St. Joseph River for trout and salmon. To expand this fishery, Michigan constructed a fish ladder at the Berrien Springs Dam in 1975 which extended trout and salmon fishing opportunities an additional 10 miles upstream to the Buchanan Dam. Based on the success of this project, the MDNR, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) began discussions to develop and manage this fishery further. A formal agreement, "The St. Joseph River Interstate Cooperative Salmonid Management Plan", resulted and was signed by the three agencies in 1980.

This $15 million dollar interstate project called for the construction of fish passage facilities at the Buchanan, Niles, South Bend and Mishawaka dams, to enable spawning runs of trout and salmon to swim upstream from Lake Michigan to the Twin Branch Dam in Indiana, a distance of 63 miles. The project also called for construction of a fish hatchery in Indiana to provide fish for Indiana's salmonid stocking in the river, and upgrades of several access facilities and sites. All of these objectives were met by fall of 1992, when all the ladders were open and fish had unimpeded access all the way to Mishawaka, Indiana.

Uniqueness of Project
Photo: underground viewing window The St. Joseph River project is truly unique. The success of this joint project would not have been possible without the cooperation and support of the two DNR agencies, the USFWS, Indiana-Michigan Power Company (American Electric Power), private industry, the local communities, Michigan Salmon and Steelheaders Association, Michiana Steelheaders and others. Unique features of the project include underground viewing chambers at four of the five ladders. Here biologists monitor fish passage with time lapse video or computers. This allows for 24 hour evaluation of fish passage. The Berrien Springs and South Bend ladders also have facilities to enable easy capture of spawning fish (primarily steelhead) to supply eggs for the hatchery system.

The St. Joseph River fisheries project is one of only a few interstate-funded anadromous fisheries projects in the nation. Two-thirds of the cost of this project was funded through the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act, (now defunct), which was administered by the USFWS, and the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Program (funded by your purchase of fishing equipment and motor boat fuels). The State of Michigan derived its funds from fishing license revenue and a recreational bond issue. The State of Indiana funds came from fishing license revenue and State Cigarette Taxes. Additional contributions came from American Electric Power, French Paper Company, and the City of Niles.

The major attraction of this project is that it has created an exciting trout and salmon sport fishery, especially in the urbanized areas where fishing opportunities are limited. No such opportunities previously existed in this section of the river. The project area encompasses 47 miles of river in Michigan and 16 miles in Indiana. The economic benefit of this project to local Michigan and Indiana communities is estimated at several million dollars annually.

Fish Stocking
As a direct result of this project, Michigan and Indiana DNR agencies have increased their fish stocking efforts in the St. Joseph to further enhance angling opportunities. Click here to view fish stocking graphs. To evaluate the project, fisheries biologists monitor fish returns through the viewing windows at three of the four ladders. Angler creel surveys are also conducted to estimate fishing pressure, fish harvest and the number of fish that are caught and released. Click here for creel surveys throughout the 63 mile stretch of river.

Public Access
Overall, public access to the St. Joseph River is very good. There are numerous boat ramps and shore fishing areas along the river from Lake Michigan upstream to Twin Branch Dam in Indiana. Both Niles and Buchanan have extensive shoreline fishing access. Berrien Springs has extensive shoreline fishing access, boat launching facilities and a river-front campground. Indiana has at least one boat ramp and parking lot between each of their dams. Several boat launching and shore fishing areas already exist at many points along the St. Joseph River in Indiana.

Fish Ladders on the St. Joseph River

The Berrien Springs Fish Ladder

Photo of the Berrien Springs fish ladder

The Berrien Springs fish ladder is located approximately 23 miles upriver from Lake Michigan. This is the first ladder that fish need to negotiate to continue their upstream migration. American Electric Power produces electricity at this dam. Completed in 1975 at a cost of $692,500, this was the second major fish ladder completed in the state after the completion of the 6th Street Dam fish ladder on the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The ladder design for Berrien Springs is called a "pool-weir". Fish enter the lower end of the ladder and ascend it by jumping over the weir walls. This is the only ladder on the St. Joseph River that is a pool-weir since it allows for a sea lamprey barrier in its design. Because of the design, the public can view fish jumping the weir walls at the 90 degree turn in the ladder.

The Buchanan Fish Ladder
The Buchanan Dam is located approximately 33 miles upriver from Lake Michigan. This is the second dam that fish need to negotiate. The fish ladder design at this ladder is called vertical slot. Fish enter the ladder from the entrance below the dam, move upstream though the system of vertical slots, and exit the ladder in the power canal. This is also a hydroelectric facility owned by American Electric Power. Total cost of this ladder was $3 million dollars. It was completed in 1990. This ladder is not accessible to the public for viewing.

The Niles Fish Ladder
Competed in 1991, this vertical slot ladder is located approximately 42 miles upriver of Lake Michigan. This is the last ladder in Michigan before fish enter Indiana. This ladder is very deep and fish pass through the ladder and exit directly into the river channel just above the Niles Dam. French Paper Company produces electricity at this dam. A viewing window is used to count all fish prior to passing into Indiana. The Niles fish ladder cost $2.5 million dollars to construct.

The South Bend Fish Ladder
Competed in 1988, this vertical slot ladder is located approximately 56 miles upriver of Lake Michigan. This ladder provides fish passage around the South Bend Dam, a non-electrical producing roller dam. The South Bend ladder includes a viewing window which allows biologist to monitor fish movement. A fish trap is also located here to allow fisheries personnel to collect adult brood fish to supply eggs for our hatcheries. Attraction water can be supplied to the lower end of this ladder to improve fish passage. Incorporated into the South Bend Fish ladder is a small demonstration hydroelectric facility. Cost of this fish ladder was approximately $1.1 million dollars. An additional $200,000 (non-DNR funds) was spent on the hydroelectric facility.

The Mishawaka Fish Ladder
The Mishawaka fish ladder is a vertical slot design. It includes a fish viewing window and a system to provide attraction water. No power is generated at this dam. Completed in 1991, the ladder is located approximately 60 miles upriver of Lake Michigan. After passing through this ladder, fish have only three more miles to go before encountering Twin Branch Dam. This dam does not have a fish ladder and is the end point of the migration. Nearly $1.4 million dollars were spent to construct the Mishawaka fish ladder.

Richard Clay Bodine State Fish Hatchery
The Bodine State Fish Hatchery is a trout and salmon hatchery built specifically for the St. Joseph River Interstate Cooperative Salmonid Management Plan. The hatchery is located in Mishawaka on the north shore of the St. Joseph River less than two miles upstream from the Twin Branch Dam. The hatchery is accessible off Jefferson Blvd between Bittersweet and Currant Roads. Public visitation hours are 7:30 AM to 3:30 PM Monday through Friday. The hatchery was originally dedicated as the Twin Branch State Fish Hatchery in 1983. It was rededicated as Richard Clay Bodine State Fish Hatchery in 1991 after the Indiana state legislator and sportsman from Mishawaka who was instrumental in passing legislation for the creation of the interstate management plan. The cost of the hatchery was $1.5 million dollars. The current stocking assignment for the St. Joseph River calls for the annual planting of 241,000 Skamania strain steelhead. This strain is also known as summer run steelhead. These fish are stocked from Mishawaka's Merrifield Park, one mile above the Mishawaka Fish Ladder. Through a recent trade agreement with Michigan, 45,000 winter run variety steelhead will also be stocked annually from Merrifield Park. This strategy will enhance the already world class trout and salmon fishing status on the St. Joseph River by providing additional opportunities to catch steelhead practically year round.