‘Unthinkable Act’: Man Allegedly Kills 18,000 Salmon by Pouring Bleach in Hatchery

chinook salmon
Salmon (Shutterstock

In Douglas County, Oregon, a devastating incident at a fish hatchery resulted in the death of nearly 18,000 young Chinook salmon due to a man's deliberate act of pouring bleach into their tank. The accused, 20-year-old Joshua Heckathorn from Gardiner, allegedly attempted to steal the fish at a facility in Reedsport on a recent Monday. A patrol deputy reported spotting Heckathorn near Highway 101 earlier in the day and later observed him at the hatchery behind a locked gate. Authorities claim he broke into the hatchery, accessed the storage area, and was about to take the fish when he resorted to using bleach.

Deborah Yates, president of the hatchery program, expressed profound confusion and distress over the incident. Her team had invested countless hours in nurturing these fish, which were scheduled for a June release along with approximately 60,000 others. "It's incomprehensible when a natural disaster takes wildlife—it's heartbreaking yet natural. But to see someone intentionally cause such destruction is utterly baffling," she remarked.

Sergeant Levi Harris, a 25-year veteran game warden, described the act as extraordinarily senseless. Initially, Heckathorn was arrested for second-degree burglary, criminal trespassing, and criminal mischief. He now also faces charges for the illegal capture of Chinook salmon, a felony, and exposing wildlife to a toxic substance, a misdemeanor.

Sgt. Harris highlighted the severity of the penalties involved, noting, "The maximum civil penalty in Oregon for illegally taking a single Chinook salmon is $750. Given the number of fish involved, the total penalty could exceed $13 million." Additional consequences could include damage claims or a lifetime ban on fishing licenses.

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Tyler James, founder of That Oregon Life, is a true Oregon native whose love for his state runs deep. Since the inception of the blog in 2013, his unbridled passion for outdoor adventures and the natural beauty of Oregon has been the cornerstone of his work. As a father to two beautiful children, Tyler is always in pursuit of new experiences to enrich his family’s life. He curates content that not only reflects his adventures but also encourages others to set out and create precious memories in the majestic landscapes of Oregon. Tyler's vision and guidance are integral to his role as publisher and editor, shaping the blog into a source of inspiration for exploring the wonders of Oregon.