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U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder with the Department of Justice announced Thursday that two Alaskan Fishermen have been charged in relation to the killing of 15 Steller Sea Lions found dead during the 2015 Copper River Salmon season.
The skipper of the F/V Iron Hide, Jon Nichols, age 31 of Cordova, and a crewmember aboard the vessel, Theodore “Teddy” Turgeon, age 21 of Wasilla were indicted on charges that include “conspiracy, violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act, obstruction of a Marine Mammal Protection Act investigation, false statements, and obstruction,” Schroder revealed in a press release today.
It was during the first weeks of the 2015 season, that opened on May 14th, that dead sea lions began showing up along the sandbars at the mouth of the Copper River. The NOAA Office of Law Enforcement opened an investigation into the deaths and soon implicated Nichols and Turgeon.
The indictment alleges that Nichols and Turgeon harassed and killed sea lions in the area and that “Nichols, as the captain of the F/V Iron Hide, regularly directed his crew, which included Turgeon, to get a shotgun kept aboard the vessel, and shoot at Steller sea lions while fishing in the Copper River fishing district. At times, Nichols would shoot the Steller sea lions himself. Nichols would also sometimes drive the F/V Iron Hide in the direction of the Steller sea lions to allow Turgeon to get a better shot at the sea lions,” DoJ reports.
When Nichols and Turgeon became aware of the investigation into the dead sea mammals, they obstructed the investigation. Nichols removed the shotgun from the vessel and rehearsed stories with the crew about the presence of a shotgun and the killing of the animals, Schroder stated.
Turgeon was also charged with making false statements to the NOAA investigators, and Nichols obstructed and attempted to obstruct the grand jury’s investigation by having his crew lie during the course of the investigation.
The Steller sea lion is protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and is listed as an endangered species for the geographic area where the shooting occurred.