We provide the first evidence for chronic effects of disturbance by commercial vessels on the spatial distribution and abundance of fishes in the channels of a large river. Most of the world's large rivers are intensively managed to satisfy increasing demands for commercial shipping, but little research has been conducted to identify and alleviate any adverse consequences of commercial navigation. We used a combination of a gradient sampling design incorporating quasicontrol areas with Akaike's information criterion (AIC)-weighted model averaging to estimate effects of disturbances by commercial vessels on fishes in the upper Mississippi River. Species density, which mainly measured species evenness, decreased with increasing disturbance frequency. The most abundant species - gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum) and freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) - and the less abundant shovelnose sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorhynchus) and flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) were seemingly unaffected by traffic disturbance. In contrast, the relative abundance of the toothed herrings (Hiodon spp.), redhorses (Moxostoma spp.), buffaloes (Ictiobus spp.), channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus), sauger (Sander canadensis), and white bass (Morone chrysops) decreased with increasing traffic in the navigation channel. We hypothesized that the combination of alteration of hydraulic features within navigation channels and rehabilitation of secondary channels might benefit channel-dependent species. ?? 2006 NRC.