When Northwest rivers run low and warm, as they are during the current drought, salmon congregate in warm pools downstream of dams, waiting for cooler water to entice them through fish ladders or to be scooped into trucks that haul them around the barriers. If the water in these pools hits 70 degrees, it can be fatal for the fish.
How can the salmon be helped in this time of need? Enter the salmon cannon.
The fish-transport product from Bellevue-based Whooshh Innovations gained much of its publicity when comedian John Oliver featured it on his HBO show Last Week Tonight in February, but the current drought is ginning up more interest from potential customers.
“We’re calling them fish-rescue inquiries,” said Vincent Bryan III, Whooshh’s CEO. “From British Columbia down to California, this has come up. … When the water’s low, fish gather in warm pools that are usually down in some sort of valley. If the truck’s up higher, how do you get them up there?”
Whooshh has just a handful of paying customers — most are hatcheries — but Bryan said the company expects revenue to grow fivefold in the next year. He said over 100 projects are in the works, many of which have to clear state or federal regulatory hurdles before implementation can take place.
“It doesn’t take us long to set up our system. If it’s a mobile system, we can be set up in an hour. If it’s a more permanent situation, a week is a long project,” Bryan said. “It’s frustrating to us because everybody is working on these timelines that are two to three years out. Why don’t you just do it?”
The Fish Transport System (unfortunately, “salmon cannon” isn’t the product’s official name) got its start at a fish processing plant in Norway, which uses it to shuttle fish and fillets around a factory. Once the product proved its mettle with dead fish, clients started calling about slinging live fish over dams and around aquaculture projects.
Whooshh’s latest focus is on volitional transport, in which the fish swim unassisted into the system’s tube. This likely is far less stressful for the fish than human loading or fighting the current and concrete of a fish ladder. Bryan said early tests have shown that the adult survival rate for Whooshh’s system is twice as high as trap-and-transport methods currently used throughout Washington rivers. The feds have taken notice: The Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is evaluating Whooshh’s system as a means to make hydropower operations safer for salmon, a critical step if Western states rely more on dams for electricity and water storage.
Dams have splintered salmon runs throughout the Northwest, and Whooshh could help make life easier for the fish. While it has taken an HBO appearance and a nasty drought to get Whooshh’s name out, Bryan’s hoping the results with upcoming projects will spark future demand.