"Salmon cannon" has fish flying upstream

This piece originally aired on Oct. 16, 2014.

In the Pacific Northwest, the salmon are running, migrating from the ocean into rivers, where they eventually spawn on gravel beds upstream.

But on one waterway near the border of Washington and Oregon, the salmon are hitching a ride, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

It's not your average salmon spawning season on the Washougal River.

Thanks to the Whooshh fish transport system, or salmon cannon, the fish are in for the ride of their lives.

"We started with goldfish and trout and tilapia," said Whooshh Innovations vice president Todd Deligan. "And we worked our way right up to salmon."

The contraption took just 20 minutes to set up.

It moves salmon from a holding pen through a pressurized tube, and with the help of a little water, five seconds later they reach a truck 150 feet away.

"It's a different thing to see fish just flying up a tube like that," said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Greg Haldy.

They bought the salmon cannon to help separate hatchery salmon from wild salmon in the river.

Until now, workers used these bins and a forklift to do the job, a process that was tougher on them than the salmon.

"And so we'd have to do that three or four times until the truck was filled and then we'd have to do it all over again," Haldy said.

The salmon cannon gets it done in half the time, with a lot less labor and with no danger to the fish, they said.

Originally this technology was designed to move apples from tree to truck in less time and without bruising them. Then one day the company wondered, could they make fish fly?

"We laughed at first and then we thought that this really has the potential for addressing some of the very serious issues that we face here in the Pacific Northwest," Deligan said.

Drought in the West is dramatically drying up salmon runs. Man-made dams on rivers have kept some species from their spawning grounds for decades.

Some dams are now being destroyed, but on other rivers, the salmon cannon could save the day.

"Instead of trucking the fish around the dam, they would just shoot them up and over the dam," Haldy said.

In the meantime, it's the fish having all the fun.