This 'Salmon Cannon' Could Save Fish Populations in Washington State

GIF credit: The Verge

If you thought the words “salmon” and “cannon” would appear in the same sentence when pigs fly, you should know that pigs are flying.

Okay, they’re not. But salmon are.

The salmon cannon is the invention of Whooshh Innovations, a Bellevue, Washington-based engineering firm. Dams and other man-made structures can prevent salmon from reaching essential breeding grounds, requiring conservationists to laboriously transport the fish. The salmon cannon, a fish “conduit” or “sleeve” as Whooshh calls it, helps expedite this process.

Here’s how it works: Load a fish into one end of the sleeve, which is installed near a riverbank. Shoot it out the other end, propelling it hundreds of feet into the air and, finally, into a holding tank, unharmed. From there, truck the fish to their breeding grounds. Play some Marvin Gaye.

The technology is much like the pneumatic tubes at a bank or mail room, explained Whooshh vice president Todd Deligan. The only difference is that the sleeve is flexible and can create a vacuum around asymmetrical objects, which in this case is a slippery salmon.

Whooshh has yet to make big bucks off its invention. The first salmon cannon was installed free of charge last year at the Roza Dam on the Yakima River in Washington State. Deligan told us that tribal leaders from the nearby Yakama Nation, which “takes the lead on fishery-related technology in the Columbia River Basin,” supervised the entire process, ensuring that it was done “in a manner that is non-impactful to salmon and other fish.” Two other gratis installations are planned for this year.

Though Deligan stressed that Whooshh is “trying to take a non-policy position,” he’s clearly excited by the ecological impact its technology might have. ”The ultimate goal would be to get migratory species in the Columbia Basin back to their historic habitats,” he said.

It’s important not only for the environment, Deligan stressed, but local peoples who have for centuries depended on the basin’s bounty. "Most of the tribes [situated nearby], their culture is centered around salmon… Imagine: One day, 70 years ago, you have no salmon," he said of the terrible consequences of the Grand Coulee Dam. “It was that sudden. Your culture has been devastated.”

So far, activists who would rather remove dams than find ways around them haven’t expressed any dismay with the salmon cannon, Deligan said. The reason, he believes, is the degree of Whooshh’s cooperation with local and government groups. “I think it has given us quite a bit of credibility,” he said.

That credibility might one day help Whooshh reroute the salmon blockaded by the Grand Coulee Dam, Deligan hopes, and restore the fish to nearby tribes. “They want their fish back,” he said. “That is why we’re here.”