The Lower Mekong Basin is facing unprecedented threats to fish diversity from hydropower development. There is increasing pressure on developers and construction authorities to design solutions to improve fish survival through turbines, thus protecting the resources in regions being developed for hydropower. A hydraulic characteristic of hydropower turbines with known fisheries impacts is fluid shear stress. Elevated shear stress occurs where rapidly flowing water passes near spillways, screens and within turbine draft tubes. Shear stress can have adverse impacts on fish, but no work has assessed whether this holds true for Mekong River species. A flume was used to determine critical tolerances of silver shark, Balantiocheilos melanopterus (Bleeker), to shear stress rates at a high‐velocity jet which simulated a hydropower turbine. Fish were assessed for injury or mortality following exposure. Results were compared against a no‐shear control. Injury and mortality were greater at higher shear stress exposures. Injuries occurred at all shear exposure levels with mortality at shear levels higher than 600/s. This approach should help design future hydropower turbines if data on other species demonstrate similar results. If the likelihood of adverse impact is high, then shear stress will need to be considered in the design of future hydropower facilities.