- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

WASHOUGAL, Wash. (AP) - It’s known as the “salmon cannon,” but Vincent Bryan III has another way of describing the latest technology being used to move migratory fish in Washington.

“It’s like a Slip’N Slide going uphill,” said Bryan, CEO of Bellevue-based Whooshh Innovations, which developed the device.

The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife recently purchased Whooshh’s Fish Transport System and deployed it on the Washougal River in east Clark County last month. The department uses the device to load fish into trucks for its hatchery program, including hundreds of tule fall chinook salmon on Tuesday.

The salmon cannon uses a vacuum-like tube to move fish from one end of the system to the other. Generator-powered pressure differentials pull fish through a flexible conduit that creates a seal around the object inside of it. WDFW workers loaded fish into the 120-foot-long tube by hand, but the device can also be set up so fish swim through on their own, Bryan said. The system uses only enough water to keep the tube slick and smooth.

“It’s not a column of water,” said Todd Deligan, Whooshh’s vice president. “It’s a wet column of air.”

Though it’s called a cannon, fish don’t exactly shoot out the other end. The Washougal setup puts the salmon immediately into a truck waiting at the top of a hill. The process is “much easier” on fish than the old method that involved totes and forklifts and a lot more time, said Eric Kinne, hatchery reform coordinator with WDFW.

A single salmon travels through the 120-foot tube in only four to six seconds. An audible flapflapflapflap follows each fish as it speeds by, swinging its tail in a swimming motion. If a fish slows or stops in the tube, workers can feed in a cylinder-shaped sponge - or another fish - to give it a boost from behind.

“It’s definitely much more efficient,” said Elise Olk, a WDFW scientific technician who helped with the operation Tuesday. “It’s less handling for the fish, too.”

State officials are collecting fish at a weir dam installed on the Washougal River about three years ago, Kinne said. The idea is to better control the number of hatchery fish that use the natural spawning grounds upstream of the site, he said. The salmon collected there recently were transported by truck to a nearby hatchery.

Whooshh adapted the salmon cannon technology from its earlier products used for transporting fruit. The company believes the new system provides an alternative way to move migratory fish over dams and other obstructions. Many structures now use fish ladders, which are costly to build, or have no passage at all.

The Washougal system, which the state purchased for $150,000 earlier this year, is one of only two such devices in use in Washington. The other is part of a Yakama Nation project in central Washington, Bryan said.

While the technology hasn’t yet seen widespread use, it has attracted widespread interest in the form of national and international media attention.

Kinne said it’s possible WDFW could use the salmon cannon elsewhere if the setting is right. Workers take apart the Washougal system every night, mostly because of vandalism concerns, he said. But that process only takes about 20 minutes, and the system is movable, Kinne said.

“This thing can be used basically anywhere,” Kinne said.

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Information from: The Columbian, https://www.columbian.com

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