Cops: Man Used Bleach to Kill 18K Juvenile Salmon

'In my 25 years as a game warden, this is one of the most senseless acts I have seen'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 30, 2024 5:14 PM CDT
Cops: Man Used Bleach to Kill 18K Juvenile Salmon
GRWB Hatchery Manager Tim Hooper shovel dead pre-smolts from the bottom of the rearing pond   (Oregon Fish and Wildlife)

In Oregon, the maximum penalty for illegally killing a Chinook salmon is $750, meaning a 20-year-old man accused of killing almost 18,000 of them could be on the hook for more than $13 million. Joshua Heckathorn allegedly poured bleach into one of four tanks at the Gardiner, Reedsport, and Winchester Bay Salmon Trout Enhancement Program—STEP—last week, the Guardian reports. In a Facebook post, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office said Heckathorn was arrested on April 23 after a deputy spotted the man behind a locked gate at the hatchery. He "admitted to trespassing on the property and entering a storage location and handling the chemical bottle" the previous day, the sheriff's office said.

In a court document, police said Heckathorn told officers he had trouble remembering details "due to being high on marijuana at the time of the crime," KGW reports. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said that in addition to the poaching charge, Heckathorn faces charges including criminal mischief and making a toxic substance available to wildlife. STEP president Deborah Yates says the loss is a serious blow to the program, which tries to release 170,000 juvenile salmon into Winchester Bay every year, OPB reports. They become adults in waters off Alaska, but only 1% to 3% make it back to the area to spawn.

"The killing of these fish is a real blow to the STEP Program Volunteers, ODFW, fishermen, and the community as a whole," said Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Sergeant Levi Harris. "In my 25 years as a game warden, this is one of the most senseless acts I have seen." Yates says volunteers who spent hundreds of hours caring for the young salmon are devastated by the crime, but there has been a strong response from the community. "People are sending money to upgrade our security system, and donating things like cameras and all sorts of stuff," she says. (More salmon stories.)

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