By Ted Land
The "salmon cannon" is now running on a river in southwest Washington. It's a new invention, designed and built by a company in Bellevue, and it's attracting worldwide attention for how fast it can move live fish.
"There's nothing like seeing it in person," said Todd Deligan, Vice President of Bellevue-based Whooshh Innovations, the company that invented the peculiar machine.
The long white rubber tube uses a vacuum system to transport a salmon from stream to truck safely and efficiently, Deligan said.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is using one on the Washougal River in southwest Washington, where they must separate wild Chinook salmon from those raised in a hatchery. The sorting protects the DNA of wild salmon and prevents cross-breeding in sensitive spawning waters, but it's also labor intensive.
Before the salmon cannon came along, technicians had to load fish into large plastic containers and use a forklift to bring them to a nearby truck.
Now that process takes seconds.
"It works great," said Will Crowson, a hatchery technician, "at first I was skeptical, but once I saw it in action I was really pleased with how it works."
Whooshh originally designed a device for transporting fruit, but then someone had an idea.
"One of our guys looked at somebody else and said 'can we possibly put a migratory species in the tube?' And at that moment we all sort of chuckled a bit, but then thought to ourselves, 'well why not?'" said Deligan.
Now there's international interest. Whooshh has been responding to calls from foreign news media, overseas seafood companies, and governments.
"We had one little article appear in an online magazine and it went viral. I think we could be the definition of viral, we have gone around the world," said Deligan.
The state of Washington owns just one salmon cannon, which it purchased for about $150,000. It's one of only four Whooshh has built.
"It's hard to tell, its early in the year, but it seems to be working way better than what we had in the past, way more efficient and I think it's more fish-friendly," said Greg Haldy, Fish Hatchery Specialist for the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. Video.