In the News

Stockdale Mill photo used by permission from Regine Brindle.

Can fish get a lift from a ladder? It’s time to find out

One of the most photographed vistas in Wabash County is the site of a unique scientific experiment: A fish ladder is being installed at the Stockdale Mill dam.

The Manchester University Environmental Studies Program is collaborating with B.K. Riverfish, LLC; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and the Stockdale Mill Foundation in an effort to allow fish to migrate upstream while preserving the much-beloved view of the water-powered mill on the National Register of Historic Places.

MU biology Professor Jerry Sweeten said the Eel River project is the first of its kind in the United States. The inventor, internationally respected migratory fish biologist Dr. Boyd Kynard, will guide the installation. The site preparation and installation will begin on Wednesday, Aug. 9, and should be complete by Aug. 16.

Sweeten received a $150,000 federal grant from the Ohio River Basin Fish Habitat Partnership through the Fish and Wildlife Service for this project.

This prototype fish ladder is designed to allow fish as small as 3 inches to navigate around the dam.  The ladder will reconnect more than 500 miles of the Eel River and tributaries.

The fishway will be constructed south of the dam wing wall across the river from the Roann mill. It will include electronic sensors to monitor fish migration and give MU students an opportunity to do hands-on research. Sweeten has long led efforts to conduct research on the Eel river. The fish ladder is an experiment to see whether it is an option when dam removal is not feasible.

“We do not know how well the ladder will pass fish, but it is experimental,” Sweeten said. “This project is a new idea and scientific approach to Eel River restoration and experiential learning opportunities for students.”  

As part of the project, approximately 2,000 fish will have passive integrated transponders (PIT tags) implanted. Antennas that can detect the PIT tags will be located across the river below the dam and at the entrance and exit of the ladder.  The data from the PIT tags will provide evidence about fish movement and the ability of the ladder to pass fish.

Sweeten and his students, in partnership with the Ohio River Basin Fish Habitat Partnership, have removed three Eel River dams that had been around since the mid-1800s. These include dams in North Manchester, Liberty Mills and Mexico. They were the first such dams removed in Indiana, and pressure is building to remove more low-head dams after several deaths this summer.

“In Indiana alone, there are more than 1,100 of these dams. They are dangerous structures for humans and have a significant ecological effect on the river,” Sweeten said. 


Stockdale Mill photo used with permission from Regine Brindle.

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About Manchester University
Manchester University, with campuses in North Manchester and Fort Wayne, Ind., offers more than 60 areas of academic study to 1,600 students in undergraduate programs, a Master of Athletic Training, a Master of Pharmacogenomics and a four-year professional Doctor of Pharmacy. It has students from 20 nations and is home to the world's first undergraduate peace studies program, established in 1948. Learn more about the private, northern Indiana school at

Aug. 8, 2017