Courtesy Gardiner Reedsport Winchester Bay STEP facebook

Douglas County man arrested after thousands of hatchery fish poisoned

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Ore. – A Gardiner man is facing multiple charges after reportedly poisoning thousands of fish in the Gardiner, Reedsport, and Winchester Bay Salmon Trout Enhancement Program hatchery.

According to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the investigation began Monday after officers learned that someone broke into the hatchery building and dumped chemicals into one of the rearing ponds, killing 15,000 to 20,000 smolt Chinook salmon.

Then just after 6 p.m. on Tuesday, a deputy saw the suspect, later identified as 22-year-old Joshua Alexander Heckathorn, walking behind the locked gate and no trespassing signs at the hatchery.

Heckathorn later admitted to trespassing, entering the storage location, and handling the chemicals.

He was arrested on charges including poaching, burglary, criminal mischief and trespassing.

According to ODFW, the maximum civil penalty for illegally killing one Chinook salmon is $750. While the court could multiply that by the number of fish killed, which in this case could be over $13 million, the agency says it’s unlikely to elevate to that level.

“The killing of these fish is a real blow to the STEP Program Volunteers, ODFW, fishermen, and the community as a whole,” said OSP Fish and Wildlife unit Sergeant Harris. “In my 25 years as a game warden, this is one of the most senseless acts I have seen.”

Courtesy Gardiner Reedsport Winchester Bay STEP facebook

The sheriff’s office was assisted by the Reedsport Police Department and is collaborating with the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife unit on the investigation.

“Solving this case is the result of collaboration and good policework,” Sheriff John Hanlin remarked. “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.”

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