The Kilarc Foundation

An Independent Non-profit Organization
for Restoration and Support of Migrating Fish

Current Activities

Habitat Research and Interventions

Eel Dam Passage

We are designing diversion equipment to guide passage of American Eels so they can pass obstructions in streams in the eastern US.

We are working on upstream and downstream passage and counting technologies. These technologies will be useful to guide eels downstream and upstream past hydropower projects. The emphasis is on detection and guidance downstream of mature females past hydro plants; this problem is the least understood and the most amenable to technological solutions.

For eels, we are working on net/light and syphon solutions to the downstream passage problem.  These experiments are being conducted in the summer of 2013.

Fish Counting Technologies

Fish passage detection is key to understanding the resource and how to help it.  Current methods use electroshocking to do census counts and tagging to do passage studies.  Both are primitive, expensive and not appropriate for long term studies.

Our current work focuses on acoustic technology to count untagged fish by bouncing sound off swim bladders as they pass through a sluice or pipe. There is a separate project aimed at detecting schooling of eels passing downstream across an open channel. More automated solutions are acoustical and video cameras, both of which currently require extensive human involvement.  We will be working on acoustic identification of eel schooling to detect seaward migration.

Passage detection is a problem with many facets: range, noise, misidentification, species specification, longevity, maintenance, ancillary services and cost, among others. Current technologies center on the physics of electrical conduction, sound, and active radio transponders. We intend to work in this field applying what we learn to fish and particularly for eel detection and enumeration.

I  Irrigation Support

The Foundation is interested in providing services to farmers that support irrigation practices that will reduce juvenile fish entrained into irrigation projects.

II  Diversion Improvements Irrigation Ditch as Habitat

The Foundation has two additional projects planned in this area. The first project is ditch/diversion improvements; the second is post-irrigation pump return of fish that have been entrained.

Gravity diversion projects:

We are studying whether part of a diversion or irrigation canal could be screened off for juvenile fish habitat. Only the upper reaches of the canal would be used and the fish would be returned to a stream channel via a dedicated fish release channel.  In these projects the farmer or ranchers provide juvenile habitat and fish passage that become part of the fish ecosystem, while not conflicting with the agricultural ventures.

III  Pump Project

In this second program - using volunteers from the Sacramento community, we hope to help with the difficult problem of pump screening.  Currently, the technology and approach is expensive and a challenge for all concerned

In the "Pump" project, we intend to seek proposals to address diversions of water from the Sacramento River and what can be done about the entrained fish beyond efforts of the State and Federal agencies.

The research project will consist of several parts:


To the left is some wedgewire that can be used in small irrigation fish diversion boxes to escort fish back to the river. 

On the right is a picture of a typical temporary - possibly illegal - pumping operation that sucks migrating fish up into the fields through unscreened pump intake.

These dike/ponds will be screened and allow for fish to rest and be returned to the the river.  Initial work will be on equipment that is portable and moveable as pump inlet screening proceeds. While many fish may be injured by the pumps, many small migrating fish may not.  This is an imperfect substitute for well maintained screening in front of the pump, but it may get the job done at sites where the current law is not enforced.

Non-Habitat Research Activities

Epigenetics and Genetics of Migration

We are studying the genetic and epigenetic composition of O. mykiss, known locally as rainbow trout or steelhead depending on their behavior.

This work is a background study to learn how to restore this species and enable it to be as fit as possible within modern California waters and the hatchery environment in which we have to operate. Work on understanding epigenetics of migration behavior will allow future population- and location-specific proposals to promote epigenetic training that fosters migration. Enhancing migratory encoding is our intermediate research target. A primary question is the mix of genetic and epigenetic factors. For now we are learning how to ask how we can separate genetics from epigenetics; identifying mechanisms and modifications are work for the future.

The Past – A Focus on Technology

Fish Friendly Water wheels for irrigation canals

In the past, Foundation staff worked on fish passage designs that would allow fish to pass low head hydropower sites unharmed.  Here at the UC Davis Hydraulics lab, we were testing a irrigation water wheel that was modified to pass fish upstream.  On the left are blue tanks full of stergeon.

Our research at UC Davis has led to technology that makes it possible to herd fish. This technology is useful to guide fish to spawning grounds and away from hydropower installations. 
We have proven it in the lab, and now hope to use this technology to help fish find spawning grounds and bypass dangers in the field.


Fish Herding with moving curtains of air

Fish Physical Guidance and Counting

Our work continues in acoustics with our work on eels and fish enumeration. We are focusing in the east on helping the American Eel bypass dams going downstream.  This work will use netting for both up and downstream passage as well as light strings near the stream bottom.

The Future – A Focus on Epigenetics and Behavior

The task of understanding instinct encoding and expression is in its infancy, and is an opportunity that is absolutely key to understanding our target species. Currently, epigenetic research on model animals is very difficult because so little is understood about the mechanisms of epigenetic control.

It is very difficult to relate behavior to patterns of genetic (as opposed to epigenetic) encoding when there is only a very brief lexicon of causal variants defining various epialleles. A desired intermediate term objective is be to map the O. mykiss epigenome to produce a lexigraphic catalog of genetic and epigenetic sites that correspond to various adaptive behaviors; a non-trivial exercise given that our present tools are inadequate to discern the structural and chemical configurations in vivo that differentiate behavioral phenotypes.

The case diadromy is interesting in that phenotypic differences can only be observed in the live adult acting freely. This is a challenge to our helping this species toward behaviors that will help them survive in our warming climate.

Given that the epiallele encoding mechanisms are not yet definable or discernible, we will study methods that will be applied to populations to acquire desired behavior imprinting – without yet defining what or where it is encoded.

The second problem is phenothpic response.  Fish, like humans, take a long time to grow to maturity and implement a behavior.  Thus, observing the phenotypic response is a very lengthy process and only observable in any research project through ancestral analysis.  This macro behavioral approach will be based on the knowledge of the heritability of the behaviors and will help to define how to induce specific behaviors and to eliminate undesirable ones.