Oregon man accused of deliberately poisoning thousands of young salmon

An Oregon man is accused of pouring bleach into a hatchery tank, killing thousands of young salmon. (Credit: Gardiner Reedsport Winchester Bay STEP)

An Oregon man is accused of pouring bleach into a hatchery tank, killing thousands of young salmon. 

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office said 20-year-old Joshua Heckathorn was arrested and charged with burglary, criminal trespass and criminal mischief.

Deputies said on April 22, a burglary was reported at the Gardiner, Reedsport, and Winchester Bay (GRWB) Salmon Trout Enhancement Program (STEP) hatchery.

Investigators were told that someone had made their way into the building and poured a chemical substance into one of the rearing ponds, causing the deaths of approximately 15,000-20,000 smolt chinook salmon.

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The next day, a deputy spotted a man walking south on the highway and was later observed behind the locked gate and no trespassing signs at the hatchery. 

The man, who was identified as Heckathorn, admitted to trespassing onto the property with the chemical bottle, according to authorities. 

"Solving this case is the result of collaboration and good policework," Sheriff John Hanlin said in a Facebook post. "I am proud of the work done by the deputies and have full confidence that the investigation will aid in holding those responsible accountable for their actions."

But there is an economic toll on criminal actions as well. 

"These young fish, returning from the ocean as adults in three to four years, would have added 200 - 400 fully grown salmon available for harvest for Winchester Bay and Umpqua River anglers generating much needed revenue in local economies," the hatchery said in Facebook post. 

"I’ve seen nature do some really horrific things, but I’ve never seen a person do this. We call it murder," Deborah Yates, the president of the hatchery, told local media

This story was reported from Los Angeles.