For Vince Bryan, moving things safely and efficiently is sensible and can make a world of difference. First it was fruit and for the last eight years it’s been all salmon.
Bryan spent his working hours as an attorney before launching Picker Technologies in 2008 to focus on moving fruit gently from trees into bins. Bryan changed his company’s moniker to Whooshh Innovations in 2013 and began tackling the worldwide fish-passage problem.
While with Picker, Bryan and his team realized they could move anything, said the 20-year Mercer Island resident. They soon began putting their full effort into caring for salmon and ensuring they can make it to their destination, spawn and return.
Whooshh’s vision is to save the fish, feed the planet and grow clean energy, said Bryan, noting that fish are important for the nutrients in rivers.
“Being in the middle of a state where we’ve got the iconic salmon and that (passage) issue raising up all of the time, it just seemed like there was such a need for a different solution than what exists today,” he said. “Our objective here was to come up with a better fish-passage solution for far less (money).”
Enter Whooshh’s viral salmon cannon and Passage Portal, a lengthy migrator tube in which female salmon carrying 4,000-5,000 eggs are transported to their spawning grounds in what Whooshh feels is a more efficient path than ladders. Bryan said that data suggests that ladders provide 96%-98% passage with some fish not making it through their entire journey.
The cannon is the engine that propels the fish toward its destination. The salmon are either hand-loaded by biologists or they swim into the cannon of their own volition like they do in a ladder. During these processes, the fish are tagged, scanned, sorted and then transported.
“When they reach the top, (the salmon) have all their energy and can continue on their way, with those energy reserves not having been spent climbing the ladder,” said Bryan, adding that it’s vital for every one of those precious fish to reach their spawning grounds and return.
At Whooshh’s United States Geological Survey project in 2019, they utilized a 1,700-foot-long, 180-foot-high system at the Cle Elum Dam while working with the Yakama Tribe and the United States Bureau of Reclamation.
Whooshh is featured in a documentary film, “Safe Passage,” for its efforts last year to save salmon on the Fraser River in British Columbia, Canada after a landslide blocked them from reaching their spawning grounds. It was the first full implementation of the Passage Portal on the Fraser River. The 30-minute doc has been submitted to film festivals across the country, and Whooshh is working with Island residents to screen the film at a local venue soon to be accompanied by a question-and-answer session.
Bryan said they’re in the process of raising capital as part of a safe fish-passage awareness campaign.
“We’re needing to educate folks about what we do and the opportunities that there are to actually really make a difference here,” said Bryan, adding that Whooshh worked on a pilot project with the Colville Tribe at the Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River in 2019.
During its projects, Whooshh’s team sets up the Passage Portal either on land or on a barge, whichever location works best in creating optimal passage conditions for the fish. They test their equipment on Pier 91 at the Port of Seattle and then ship the portal to the project site. With major infrastructure funding on tap after the senate passed a bill, Bryan said there are copious fish-passage projects on the horizon.
Bryan said it’s satisfying and complex work for Whooshh to “create solutions that enable native fish populations to recover while simultaneously making more water available for hydropower or agriculture,” according to its mission statement.
It’s a family affair at Whooshh for Bryan, whose sister, Janine, is the vice president of biology. Also a Mercer Island resident, she helped develop the vaccine Gardasil while working for Merck Research Laboratories.
The siblings’ parents, Vince and Carol, set the family’s entrepreneurial course by starting The Gorge Amphitheatre and Cave B Estate Winery in eastern Washington. The elder Vince also founded Spinal Dynamics on Mercer Island.