In "Candid Camera" style, Julie Heinz stealthy tweaked the camera's focus, careful not to draw the attention of her unwitting subjects. Only this wasn't for fun and games.

Heinz, a biology technician with the U.S. Geological Society, was filming the underwater behavior of about 400 salmon fingerlings of the Clatsop County Economic Development Council Fisheries Project Tuesday as part of an experiment of a potential groundbreaking fish passage system.

The Fisheries Project is lending its facilities and fish to help Gordon Burns, a Montana resident and amateur naturalist, test a prototype of his dam bypass system, which he says could provide a more efficient and less traumatic alternative to fish ladders, water spills, barging and other methods now used to ferry juvenile fish over or around dams during their migration.

Burns envisions using an underwater pumping system to create a flow in the water to carry young fish away from the dam and into a manmade river channel around the dam. His idea, which he calls "a dam site - better!" has drawn interest of the Northwest Power Planning Council and other federal agencies.

Heinz brought an underwater video camera from the U.S.G.S. to help Burns test his theory that the fish would follow the artificial current and, therefore, could be led around the dams through a manmade channel. Heinz lowered the dual frequency identification sonar camera into one corner of a net pen at the Fisheries Project Youngs Bay site.

Burns and county fisheries staff used a pump system to create an underwater current in the pen. A laptop computer connected to the hydro-acoustical camera enabled the people on the pier to watch the fish react.

The fish, which were simply milling around before the pumping, lined up on the current and the camera recorded their behavior very well, said Tod Jones, manager of the county's Fisheries Project.

Last November, CEDC staff worked with Burns to test another part of his proposed fish passage system. About 50,000 fingerlings were coaxed from one pen to another through an abductor tube that is used as part of the pumping system that creates the current.

Ideally, no fish would go through the tube, but Burns wanted to know if wild fish inadvertently sucked through would be harmed. The fish were monitored all winter and have shown no mortalities.

The fish from the experiment will be monitored for three weeks then released at the end of March.

Burns, a Montana resident and self-described naturalist who repairs dams and builds swimming pools, came up with his idea while digging for gold in a stream. He noticed fish were drawn to the movement of the water from the dredging. He believes his system could move fish around dams without touching them and improve the survival rate.

He is seeking funding from the Bonneville Power Administration and his proposal under an independent scientific review.

CEDC Fisheries Project is funded by BPA through its Select Area Fisheries Evaluation Project, by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and its restoration and enhancement program, and by local fishermen and fish-processing plants through self-imposed voluntary assessments on their catch.

CEDC Fisheries Project is part of the county's Community Development Department.

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