The fish at Tallowa Dam in the Shoalhaven are living it large. No more labouring over upriver swims, these fish travel in style. They catch the fish lift. Part elevator, part gondola, part aquatic limo, it’s a téléphérique for those of the fishy persuasion. Fitted with all the mod cons minus the elevator music, it is a mode of transportation for those upwardly mobile fish seeking to explore and forage in the uncharted waters of the upper Shoalhaven River, those spoken of by their ancestors in the dulcet tones of bedtime story whisperers.
The freshwater fish of the Shoalhaven are naturally migratory, but after the Tallowa Dam was built along the Shoalhaven in 1976, the passage of migratory fish upriver was completely blocked, resulting in the extinction of 10 species of fish above the dam. This all changed recently though, with the fish lift reintroducing species into their former stomping grounds.
The lift is designed to attract the fish into a large chamber at the base of the dam before sealing off and travelling to the top of the dam where it deposits the fish into the lake. From here they have access to the upper Shoalhaven and a whole slew of creeks and tributaries. It’s been a boon for the local fish because 75% of their habitat is actually upstream of the dam.
Local fish and lobbyist Lenny reports that for years his community has been suffering in a cramped and stagnating downriver ecosystem, ill-equipped to meet the needs of a growing population. He and other Shoalhaven elders are elated to see the fish lift opening up access to the extensive, clear waters of the upper reaches of their homes denied to them for so long. (Ok, I made that bit up).
Are you wondering how the fish get back down the dam? A slot has been cut into the spillway to allow fish to cruise in and ride a slippery dip down into a receiving pool where they can let the adrenaline settle before swimming out into the familiar waters of home. Nice one.