The Fishway

Located at the mouth of the Desjardins Canal, RBG's Fishway is protecting native species and their wetland habitats.

NOTE: Due to flood levels, Fishway operations have been cancelled until water levels significantly recede.

Operational HoursHistory of the FishwayResources

Fishway operator holding carp in net to show crowd

Discovery at the Fishway

Watch RBG ecologists at work as they assist migrating fish to their spawning grounds in Cootes Paradise Marsh! The Fishway is located at the outlet of Cootes Paradise Marsh, a short walk from Princess Point accessed along the Desjardins Trail. Operation lasts approximately 30 minutes.

Operational Hours

  • March: After ice out, Monday to Friday 2 p.m.
  • April to June: Monday to Friday 7:30 a.m. & 2 p.m.
  • July and August: Monday, Wednesday and Friday 2 p.m.
  • September to November: No pre-scheduled operations
  • Special weekend/holiday lifts apply. Download schedule (pdf).

About the Fishway

The Fishway is located at the mouth of the Desjardins Canal - where Cootes Paradise Marsh flows into Hamilton Harbour. Its design keeps invasive Common Carp out of the marsh, but allows water and native fish to move between the two bodies of water. The Fishway is one of several remediation projects in place to restore the marsh to a healthy wetland community.

Since 1997, the Fishway has been protecting Cootes Paradise Marsh and connecting visitors to the hard to see life beneath the water. It is a vital tool to improving the health of the marsh, allowing further restoration initiatives to occur.

History of the Fishway

As part of the marsh restoration, it is a barrier designed to keep the large non-native carp in Hamilton Harbour and out of the marsh, while maintaining the natural flow of water and native fish. After a century of decline, the marsh has improved each year since the Fishway’s installation. In 1996, about 70,000 common carp dominated the marsh; the barrier has excluded 95+% since its installation. You can experience a rejuvenating Cootes Paradise Marsh through one of the many public or school programs, or visit the Fishway during the spring migration of spawning fish from Lake Ontario.

Highlights of 20 years of restoration progress as measured between 1996 and 2016 include:

  • Water clarity improved from 30 cm to 50 cm, with periods of  very clear water occurring in recent years
  • Submergent aquatic plants increased from 0 hectares to 80 hectares.
  • Wetland plants overall increased by 105 hectares and now include 28 species (up from 8 species)
  • Emergent marsh vegetation increased from 15 to 39 hectares, mostly in the form of cattails – with 14 species present
  • Wild Rice, once totally lost, now grows in 30 locations
  • Native Fish increased by six fold (graph below).
  • Amphibians increased from 3 to 5 species and numbers have increased 8 fold
  • Planted over 200,000 wetlands plants (including 150,000 cattails covering 3 hectares), assisting with the re-establishment of many lost species.

Understanding the results

Ongoing fish deaths in adjacent Hamilton Harbour due to impaired oxygen levels and fish diseases such as VHS (which arrived 2007) continue to suppress fish numbers, despite improved marsh reproductive habitat. The impaired oxygen is a direct result of large volumes of partially and untreated sewage entering the harbour. The decomposing sewage uses up the oxygen, particularly through the processes of ammonia de-nitrification. Upgrades to wastewater treatment systems in Hamilton and Burlington are underway to correct this issue through the HHRAP.

Educational opportunities

The Fishway provides excellent opportunities for the public to view native fish up close, and learn about the conservation projects that are helping to restore this ecologically sensitive wetland. Public tours are available during regular operating hours, and school tours can be booked through our educational programs.

2019 Hours (pdf) School Programs

Fishway Resources

aerial view of boardwalk

On The Trails

Our nature sanctuaries feature more than 27 km of nature trails. There are four main trailheads, as well as two canoe launch sites. Read more (pdf)

map view of cootes paradise

Cootes Paradise Trails

Established in 1927 for its significance as a migratory bird stopover, Cootes Paradise is RBG’s largest and most diverse sanctuary at over 600 hectares. Read more (pdf)

planting in the wetlands

Conservation Projects

Projects occur in forest, wetland and prairie habitats and range from Species at Risk inventories to invasive alien species management. Read more