Unique to the state and the Southeast, the fish lock at St. Stephen dam affords passage for fish migrating upstream to spawn, and permits visitors an underwater view through a glass window from March 15 through April 15.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) operates the fish lock, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of the St. Stephen Dam on the Rediversion Canal in Berkeley County. "The fish lock operates on the same principle as navigation locks that let boats pass through dams", said Steve Leach, a fisheries biologist with the DNR Freshwater Fisheries Section
"The fish lock allows migratory fish like American shad and blueback herring to move from the Santee River to Lakes Moultrie and Marion and into the upper Santee, Congaree and Wateree rivers during their annual migration," Leach said. "This opens large areas of spawning and nursery grounds allowing fish populations to expand in numbers. These fish provide recreational and commercial fishing opportunities, ecological benefits from transfer of energy from the ocean to freshwater, and are a primary food source for game fish such as Santee-Cooper striped bass."
The fish lock is capable of transporting thousands of fish upstream and over the dam daily, and an underwater window gives visitors a unique view of fish migration while allowing biologists to monitor fish passage into the lakes. Fish migration is a natural phenomenon though, and so is subject to changing environmental conditions including water discharge. Viewing of fish at a specific time cannot be guaranteed.
Due to heightened national security, visitors must make reservations in advance for tours, which may be scheduled from March 15 through April 15. As in recent years, walk-in visitors will not be allowed. Reservations for guided tours are free, but space is limited. Natural resources staff will explain the lock operation and its importance to fishery resource conservation.
For further information, or to make reservations please contact Sabrina Wright at DNR's Dennis Wildlife Center in Bonneau at (843) 825-3387.