Two men convicted of “Marine Mammal Protection Act –Illegal Take,” for killing 15 Steller Sea Lions during the 2015 salmon season at the mouth of the Copper River were sentenced in federal court on Tuesday, the Department of Justice revealed.
Both men, 31-year-old Jon Nichols of Cordova, and 21-year-old Teddy Turgeon of Wasilla pleaded guilty to the Illegal Take charge in June of this year. Nichols also pleaded guilty to one count of “Obstruction of a Marine Mammal Protection Act
During the opening of the 2015 season, a federal investigation was initiated after 15 Steller Sea Lions were discovered dead at the mouth of the river. The investigation found that in May and June of that year, Nichols, while captain of the f/v Iron Hide regularly directed his crew, of which Turgeon was a part of, to shoot the mammals in the Copper River Fishing District.
According to prosecutors, Nichols would drive the boat toward the animals to give Turgeon a better shot at the sea lions and at times would use one of the two shotguns aboard to shoot the animals himself.
When Nichols found out about the investigation that spanned the summer and into the fall, prosecutors say that Nichols obstructed the investigation into the killings. Nichols admitted to coordinating false stories about the killing of sea lions and the presence of firearms aboard the vessel.
Prosecutors said in court, “For example, after encouraged to do so by Nichols, Turgeon lied to a NOAA law enforcement agent stating that the crew did not shoot sea lions and there were no guns on the F/V Iron Hide when he knew these statements to be false.”
As a result of their guilty pleas, Nichol received a sentence of five years probation, three months of home incarceration, 400 hours of community service, and a $20,000 fine. Turgeon, for his part in the crime, received four years probation, a month of home incarceration, 40 hours of community work service and a $5,000 fine.
The Steller sea lion is protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and is listed as an endangered species.