Many Canadians remember the infamous “Chicken Cannon” from the long-running comedy series Royal Canadian Air Farce.
And much like that famous cannon, Whooshh Innovations’ “Salmon Cannon” has an ominous-sounding name for a much more benign – even beneficial – purpose.
An ongoing drought in the Pacific Northwest, combined with the prevalence of man-made dams, is making it increasingly difficult for salmon to return upstream to their spawning grounds.
The device, formally known as the Whooshh Fish Transportation System, was purchased by the The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife at a cost of $150,000, to help move salmon along the Washougal River near the Washington/Oregon border.
“We have been developing this over the last couple of years,” Todd Deligan, Vice-President of Whooshh Innovations, told Global News. “We have been working with a number of, from the live fish side, tribal, aid, and federal partners.”
The “Salmon Cannon” was originally designed to help move apples from the tree to the truck. From there, Deligan moved to smaller fish like trout and tilapia, before making the jump to full-size salmon.
“We were developing a technology for the harvesting of specialty crops,” Deligan said. “We were in eastern Washington testing the technology, it was 2009, and all of the salmon issues had come back up again.”
“At that moment, we sort of looked at each other and said, ‘Could we possibly provide a solution here to allow migratory species to get over larger barriers?’”
The “cannon” takes just twenty minutes to set up, moving salmon from a holding pen through a pressurized tube to a truck some 150 feet away, in order to separate hatchery salmon from wild Chinook salmon.
This process is designed to protect the DNA of wild salmon from cross-breeding, and also help preserve stocks of fish for future spawnings.
“The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has requirements to separate hatchery fish from wild fish on a number of these rivers,” Deligan said. “Hatchery fish are used for future generation purposes. Their eggs will be used for next year’s spawn.”
At it’s simplest, the device makes it easier for fish to traverse man-made obstacles such as dams, or circumvent areas of low-water caused by drought.
Previously, the salmon were loaded by forklift and truck in a process that was onerous and, Deligan says, more dangerous to the fish.
According to Deligan, the device is completely harmless to the salmon it is “firing”.
“The design is made out of soft, flexible plastic-like materiels,” Deligan said. “Inside, when it’s wet, it’s almost frictionless. There’s really nothing to harm the fish.”