Man Arrested In Umpqua Hatchery Chinook Poisoning Case

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office says they arrested a 22-year-old local Oregon Coast man in connection with the poisoning of 15,000 to 20,000 young hatchery Chinook on Monday back at the scene of the crime a day later.


A deputy patrolling near the Gardiner, Reedsport, and Winchester Bay Salmon Trout Enhancement Program hatchery on Tuesday evening observed a man along Highway 101 and then discovered him a short time later at the hatchery, located behind a locked gate and no trespassing signs.

The man, Joshua A. Heckathorn of nearby Gardiner, was interviewed by the deputy and allegedly admitted to trespassing, entering a storage building and handling the bottle of bleach on Monday.

The Salem Statesman-Journal reported that in court documents acquired and initially reported on by the Coos Bay World, Heckathorn “was shaking, sweating and at one point threw up during the interview,” and had “trouble remembering details of the day due to being high on marijuana at the time of the crime.”

Heckathorn was arrested and taken to the Douglas County Jail on charges of second-degree burglary, criminal mischief and criminal trespass.

“Due to the number of smolt Chinook salmon that were killed in the incident, the Sheriff’s Office is collaborating with the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife unit on the case,” deputies said in a press release.

According to the Gardiner, Reedsport, and Winchester Bay STEP, around 80,000 Chinook are raised at the facility for release into the lower Umpqua for sport fisheries. They’re reared in 20,000-fish tanks and bleach was poured into one of the four tanks.

“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,” a GRWB STEP post on Facebook last night stated.

Thousands of hours of work go into collecting returning adult Chinook at the STEP facility, spawning and fertilizing their eggs, and then rearing the young salmon. An annual Labor Day Weekend derby serves as a critical fundraiser for the program.

“Our STEP volunteers work hard and give their time to raise these fish,” said Meghan Dugan, an ODFW public information officer. “It’s really unfortunate to see this loss happen.”

Dugan said the estimated 18,000 lost Chinook would have been released in early June, when the remaining 60,000 will be fin-clipped and let go. Another 60,000 smolts from the same cohort and which are being raised at Elk River Hatchery will be released into Winchester Bay in early October, she said.

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin credited “collaboration and good policework” for solving the case and said his deputies were assisted by the Reedsport Police Department.

“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,” Hanlin said.