Seattle company hoping to restore salmon populations with 'Salmon Cannon'

SEATTLE — A Seattle company is hoping to restore salmon populations with a next-generation type of fish passage around dams.

“We have created a slip and slide for fish,” said Todd Deligan, the vice president of Strategic Development of Whooshh Innovations which created the so-called “salmon cannon.”

Deligan said it could help restore critical salmon runs by getting fish past dams to where they have historically spawned.

“It allows a fish to glide very smoothly over a long distance,” Deligan added.

Despite its nickname, it doesn't operate as a cannon. Fish are misted with water and shot through a long soft, flexible plastic tube using air pressure.

“We simply create a higher pressure behind the fish in the tube and having lower pressure in the front,” Deligan explained.

Whooshh has been working on the system for the last couple of years. It’s been tested at the Roza Dam on the lower Yakima River, where chinook took an 1,100 foot ride, and also on the Priest Rapids Dam in the Columbia River.

But the company has its biggest test yet coming up in June - helping sockeye up and over  the Cle Elum Dam into the reservoir.

“It is the first time an alternate passage system like a Whoosh system has been implemented in a full way on a major high-head dam structure,” Deligan said.

Workers are still building the 1,700 foot long system.

Whooshh just inked a deal for the pilot project with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Yakama Nation.

Deligan said testing shows their system is safe and doesn't stress the fish.

Deligan said a Whooshh "cannon" is cheaper than a traditional fish ladder. For instance, he said building a fish ladder at Cle Elum Dam would take years and cost upward of $50 million - $60 million. A Whooshh tube at Cle Elum would range would be $7 million - $10 million and could be built in a couple of months.

Deligan also believes what happens this summer could have widespread impact for salmon recovery and fish populations all over the world.

“When this works, we believe that will provide plenty of opportunity both in this country and outside, to address these very serious issues of high head dam passage,” Deligan said.