After a summer of helping pink salmon traverse up the White River, the Bellevue company Whooshh Innovations will be partnering with Sumner trout broodstock giant Troutlodge in developing safer ways to transport live fish from area to area.
“We’re an early adopter,” said Troutlodge CEO Steve Brown in a press release. “We’ve been carefully watching the progress that Whooshh has made in terms of fish health and welfare. Because of this, we at Troutlodge are very committed to using this technology. We believe it will not only be better for the fish but also safer for our workers.”
Under the terms of the agreement, signed Dec. 3, Whooshh will deliver two 65-foot transport systems that will help Troutlodge ship live Rainbow Trout broodstock around their main facility in Sumner called Trout Springs.
The first system will be delivered in early 2016.
Troutlodge was established in 1945 and is currently the world’s leading producer of trout eggs, sending nearly 500 million eggs across the world every year, said John Dentler, director of government relations at the company.
Whoosh Innovations, which started in 2007, has patented a system of live fish transport that minimizes stress and injury to fish while being transported, the company says.
The transport system, casually referred to as a “salmon cannon”, uses differential pressure to move fish along a water-lubricated tube to be released (gently) on the other side.
This is vastly different than how companies like Troutlodge normally transport fish, which was to encourage them into a crowd and lift them by net or crate into a truck and be driven to their destination.
Most of Whooshh’s cannons are only a few dozen feet long, like the ones Troutlodge will use, but Whoosh has built a 500 foot cannon in Norway (though that system does not transport live fish) and plans to test a 1,000 foot long system in January.
On its website, Whooshh predicts that their transportation system can be vastly improved, and it may be possible to have systems up to 2,000 feet long, cover an elevation of 1,000 feet, or even transport fish straight up at a 90 degree angle without harming or stressing the fish.
Fish going through the cannon can reach speeds up to 22 miles per hour, and the system can transport a maximum of one fish every one and a half seconds, depending on the size and power of the pump being used.
Troutlodge plans to transport one fish every four seconds, and move up to 15,000 fish a day.
Working on the White River?
Whoosh was introduced to Troutlodge last summer while Whoosh was working with the Puyallup Tribe on the White River dam right outside Buckley.
Whoosh used their cannon to move pink salmon out of the river into a truck, which then transported the fish to their final destination – their spawning grounds a few miles upstream from the Mud Mountain Dam.
Due to the repairs the Army Corp of Engineers were making last summer to the dam, which feeds water from the White River into Lake Tapps, Whoosh was only able to catch the tail-end of the spawning season, said Whooshh CEO Vince Bryan III.
This meant the start-up worked for two weeks at the end of the spawning season, transporting roughly a truck or two of fish every day (every truck contained approximately 150 fish per load).
The purpose of this pilot project was to show that the Whooshh transport system would work just as well in the salmon’s natural habitat as it would in controlled environments like Trout Springs, Bryan said.
This is important, because the Army Corp of Engineers is currently looking for ways to improve how salmon and other fish swim over the Buckley dam, especially since thousands of salmon kill themselves trying to make it over the dam every year.
In 2013 the Corp announced that it planned to fix the dam and improve safety to salmon by 2020 after lawsuits were filed by environmental and tribal groups.
In the meantime, repairs were made to the dam’s apron last summer to improve fish safety.
David Cook, the Army Corp of Engineers’ senior project manager at the Mud Mountain Dam said the Corp recently completed 10 percent of the new dam design.
However, Cook continued, the Corp plans to keep trucking fish up from the Buckley dam past the Mud Mountain Dam and doesn’t plan to partner with Whooshh in the near future.
“We’ve met with them a couple times in the past to talk about their technology,” Cook said. “But the Corp hasn’t adopted their technology and the National Marine Fishery Service hasn’t approved it yet for anything other than experimental purposes… We are looking at other time-proved fish transport methods, which would either be a fish auger, a fish lift or a fish lock.”
The National Marine Fishery Service (also known as NOAA Fisheries) is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and works to balance protecting marine species with recreation and economic activity.
The National Marine Fishery Service makes the call on what technology is approved to be used for transporting fish on the Endangered Species Act list, said spokesman Michael Milstein.
Whooshh is currently working on getting that approval for the Buckley dam, said Bryan, and hopes the approval will change the course of the Army Corp of Engineer’s plans for the area.
Whooshh has submitted several studies relating to their transport system and other studies relating to traditional means of fish transportation to the National Marine Fishery Service.
According to Bryan, one of those studies was performed by the Yakima Nation at the Roza Dam fish handling facility, where the tribe studied the mortality rate of fish sent through the Whoosh system versus being handled and trucked.
The study, Bryan said, found fish that went through the Whooshh system had half the mortality rate of fish that were trucked.
Additionally, the egg survivability rate, another part of the study, was close to 98 percent, which Bryan said approached levels close to the tribe’s control group in the experiment.