Three men from Marion were arrested on Monday and charged in the April 4 vandalism of the Armstrong Fish Hatchery in McDowell County that resulted in the killing of more than 150,000 rainbow trout.
The Caldwell Journal reported that Jack Brown, Gabriel Miller and Adam Mitchell, all in their early 20s, were charged by the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office with one misdemeanor count each of polluting hatchery water, robbing or injuring hatcheries or aquatics and injury to personal property.
According to published reports, detectives said the men were "messing around" and had no idea the damage they had done before it was too late.
Hatchery officials said the men opened a gate, which diverted the supply of water and oxygen away from the 150,000 fish.
Mike Anderson, the hatchery superintendent, said a worker noticed that trout in the hatchery’s raceways were in distress and quickly discovered that the water flow had been shut off. He found a valve controlling the Armstrong Creek Dam was fully opened, allowing the water to flow downstream instead of into the hatchery. Anderson said the water was diverted for around 30 minutes, during which time the trout, more than a third of the hatchery’s entire population, were left without oxygen.
According to the Caldwell Journal, Capt. Shanon Smith of the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office said the hatchery is private property, but officials had been leaving the road open to allow access for hunters and hikers to cross into U.S. Forest Service land.
The fish that were killed were valued at approximately $150,000.