The Whooshh Innovations System Passage Portal, a barge installed temporarily below Chief Joseph Dam near Bridgeport, demonstrates fish passage possibilities over the high-head dam.

BRIDGEPORT – Welcoming those to a real-time demonstration of the “Whooshh Innovations’ Passage Portal” – a vacuum-like device developed to to move migratory salmon over high-head dams – Colville Business Council’s Darnell Sam talked about achieving the “impossible.” 

“We sound like a broken record, but we’ve been told over and over that things that have been impossible become possible,” said Sam, chair of the CBC Fisheries Committee. “Today, we come here to witness another one of those impossibles becoming possible with Whooshh system.” 

For more than three-quarters of a century, most people have believed it was impossible for for migratory salmon to pass above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams into the uppermost stretches of the Columbia River. 

These salmon have not moved above Chief Joseph Dam in 64 years and Grand Coulee Dam in 77 years. In August, the Colville Tribes conducted three cultural releases and at least one experimental release of salmon above these two “impossible” barriers to fish passage. Now the Tribes has moved another step forward in overcoming this challenge. 

“Salmon are just like our people,” said Sam. “They learn to adapt. They learn how to overcome, and they learn to survive. They need our help. As much as we get from them, we have to give back to them. This is part of the process today that we are going to demonstrate, that help, to give back to them, to help them get back to where their ancestors once were.”

The demonstration included a 30-foot by 60-foot barge sitting in the tailrace of Chief Joseph Dam, and a small tower constructed along the riprapped bank. From the barge to the tower, and over the top of dam, rose a silver tube hanging from a cable.

The pneumatic tube was covered in Mylar insulation and stretched a distance of 500 feet from the barge to the top of the dam , according to Whooshh Innovations’ CEO Vince Byran III.

For the demonstration, the tube then returned salmon back into the water below the dam. “A shame,” said Bryan. 

Whooshh has become well known for its ‘salmon cannon,’ which became a viral sensation and was featured by media outlets across the country, including a spot on Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show,” but the Passage Portal is different, Bryan explained.

For the salmon cannon, salmon were placed by hand into a pneumatic tube , but with this innovation, salmon voluntarily move up the ladder on the back of the barge and into a small scanner that quickly photographs each fish from three different angles. The salmon then move into the tube – deemed ‘The Burst Buster,’ by Byran.

The entire process on the barge takes less than 2 seconds, Bryan said. He said that a study conducted at the Priest Rapids Dam in 2016 showed that migratory salmon that moved through Whooshh system traveled up to 150 miles further in their migration than those that expended the extra energy on fish ladders.

The tube, which is insulated and then chilled and misted from the barge, moves the fish at a rate of 25 feet per second with a pressure differential.

The entire system was constructed here in two weeks, after Whooshh received its final permit Aug. 27 to keep the demonstration installed for the remainder of the summer Chinook run and for the fall Chinook run. 

According to a Whooshh media release, ,the project is a joint effort between Colville Tribes, the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Sam said the demonstration came as part of a four-phase salmon reintroduction process as part of the Colville Tribes’ ongoing efforts to return salmon to the Upper Columbia River.

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