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At more than 9,000 square miles, the Cape Fear River basin is one of the largest watersheds in North Carolina, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to past Greensboro. Poor habitat quality in rivers and streams threatens fish, such as American shad, striped bass, river herring, and endangered Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon populations. Dams and other blockages prevent fish such as these from migrating upstream to spawn (lay eggs).


As a member of the Cape Fear River Partnership—made up of  key federal, state, local, academic, and business organizations—NOAA is working to implement a multi-year action plan (The Cape Fear River Basin Action Plan for Migratory Fish) using broad range of tools and capabilities to provide long-term, habitat-based solutions for the most pressing challenges affecting fish and recreational uses of the Cape Fear River.

The Cape Fear River Basin Action Plan for Migratory Fish buildson momentum of building the first fishway at the Army Corps’ Lock and Dam #1. The Action Plan addresses protection and restoration challenges by:

  • Identifying threats to healthy migratory fish populations
  • Outlining steps to improving water quality, habitat conditions, and fish passage
  • Determining community and economic benefits of increased migratory fish populations
Visit the Cape Fear River Partnership website to learn more about the Partnership and our progress in implementing the Cape Fear River Basin Action Plan for Migratory Fish.


NOAA’s Office of Habitat Conservation is funding some of the work currently taking place in the Cape Fear River basin. The two conservation projects below are helping to restore habitat and demonstrate the value of migratory fish in the Cape Fear River Basin.

Cape Fear River Fisheries Enhancement Project – funded through NOAA’s Community Based Program 2013 SARP funding opportunity, is led by the Cape Fear River Watch in coordination with Dial Cordy and Associates, the project will assess the river-bottom habitat of the three mile stretch of the Cape Fear River upstream from the newly-installed fishway and help to enhance spawning habitat.

Linking Improvements in Water Quality and Migratory Fish Passage to Economic Benefits of Fisheries and Water Use in the Cape Fear River – led by The Nature Conservancy and The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, this project directly fills socioeconomic next steps described in the Action Plan by:

  • Quantifying the economic value and impacts of the Cape Fear River’s migratory and coastal fisheries on coastal communities
  • Assessing the relationship of fish health and survival to water quality
  • Improving water quality by determining priority areas for conservation
  • Demonstrating the potential of various activities and actions to improve water quality
  • Outlining the value of these actions to drinking water users in the basin


Many North Carolina counties, cities, and businesses depend on the Cape Fear for water. In 2010, more than 33,000 people in North Carolina were employed in the tourism and recreation industry, with wages totaling almost $500 million. And North Carolina anglers spent more than $1.5 billion in 2011 on fishing-related activities. These numbers show the importance of sustainable fish populations to North Carolina's economy.

Improved habitat conditions in the Cape Fear River will benefit not only the important migratory fish species in the basin, but also the communities that depend on the river for its abundant water supply and rich recreational opportunities.


As an active member of the Cape Fear River Partnership, NOAA will continue to participate in partnership efforts to reach out to the broader community while continuing to implement the suite of actions described in the newly released plan. NOAA is committed to improving fish passage, fish habitat and socioeconomic outcomes throughout the Cape Fear River Basin.