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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Thomas L. Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division, announced the conviction and sentencing in Tacoma, Washington of two individuals for violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act for shooting a sea lion while they were sport fishing for salmon.

Sea lions inhabit the waters of the Pacific Northwest, and range up and down the west coast. Sea lions can live for up to 20 years and can range in size from 500 to 1,000 pounds. Sea lions commonly forage for salmon in Pacific Northwest waters. All sea lions are protected from harassment and killing by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

On December 11, 2003, North and Watson each pled guilty to a single count of violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act for having shot at and for having killed a sea lion, which is a class A misdemeanor. Both were sentenced on February 27, 2004.

According to the plea agreement, defendants Richard V. North and Rodney D. Watson violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act in March 2002 when they shot at sea lions that were feeding in the area. During two days in March, North and Watson were sport fishing for salmon on the Columbia River along the Washington State riverbank. North and Watson took turns firing a.22 caliber rifle at sea lions that were foraging for fish nearby in the river. North succeeded in shooting one of the sea lions in the head, causing the sea lion to thrash about and bleed profusely from the head area. The sea lion dove and surfaced several times in this condition, and then disappeared. The shooting was witnessed by several other boats in the area.

The court sentenced Richard North, who struck the sea lion, to 15 days of home detention with electronic monitoring, 100 hours of community service, a $1000 fine, and two years of supervised probation. Rodney Watson, who shot at but did not strike a sea lion, was sentenced to 75 hours of community service, a $1500 fine, and two year of supervised probation. The court also prohibited both men from fishing while accompanied by a firearm during the period of probation.

The investigation of this case was lead by Special Agents of the National Marine Fisheries Service. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Washington, and the Wildlife and Marine Resources Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.