October 4, 2007

Sturgeon Didn’t Just Walk Off on Their Own

By Larry Bingham, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

Oct. 4--All the Oregon State Police know about the crime, so far, is this: The missing were last seen swimming in knee-deep water Friday afternoon. Sunday morning, the pond was empty.

The thief -- or thieves -- must have lugged the seven victims, each roughly 2 1/2 to 5 feet long and weighing 40 to 50 pounds, around the gift shop and through the visitor parking lot. Investigator Mike Hanson thinks it had to have happened at night.

That doesn't explain how the criminals got past the locked gate to the Bonneville Fish Hatchery off Interstate 84. Or how they climbed the fence that surrounds the grounds. No footprints or clues were found at the pond's edge or along the pavement, Hanson said.

The last known sturgeon theft was in 1985 when Herman I, one of two fish displayed for decades at the Oregon State Fair, was swiped from the Roaring River Trout Hatchery near Scio. Estimated to be between 50 and 100 years old, he was never found and his abductors never brought to justice.

The same fate seems likely for seven younger sturgeons taken from a picturesque pond at the Bonneville hatchery, run by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.

The theft comes at a time when the hatchery -- visited last year by 447,000 people -- opens its doors to scores of school kids who come on field trips to learn about the life cycle of a prehistoric fish. The white sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish species in North America and can reach 20 feet, weigh as much as 1,000 pounds and live to be 100 or more.

The interpretive center and other areas remain open and untouched, including the large landscaped pond that is home to the 9-foot-long fish currently known as Herman.

While investigators scratch their heads, the thief probably pats his wallet or admires a full freezer. Oregon law places a value of $250 on each fish.

But why is it always sturgeons?

Years ago, a sturgeon was stabbed in the Roaring River hatchery where Herman was stolen. Two others were abducted, and one severely wounded, at Bonneville in 1982.

"Why sturgeon? I have absolutely no clue," says Bonneville Hatchery Manager Greg Davis. "Especially since sturgeon fishing is open."

Anyone with information is encouraged to call Hanson at 800-452-7888.


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Copyright (c) 2007, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

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