Two Alaska Men Charged with Harassing, Killing Steller Sea Lions and Obstructing the Investigation into Their Illegal Activities
Anchorage, Alaska – U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder announced today that two Alaska men have been charged in relation to 15 Steller sea lions found dead during the opening of the 2015 Copper River salmon season. The two men have been charged with harassing and killing Steller sea lions with shotguns and then making false statements and obstructing the government’s investigation into their criminal activities. 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.
Jon Nichols, 31, of Cordova, who was captain of the Fishing Vessel (F/V) Iron Hide, and Theodore “Teddy” Turgeon, 21, of Wasilla, who was a deckhand on the F/V Iron Hide at the time of the offenses, were both named in the indictment. The charges 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.
According to the indictment, during the first few weeks of the salmon gillnet season that opened on May 14, 2015, fifteen Steller sea lions were discovered dead along the sand bars at the mouth of Copper River fishing district. It is alleged that on various occasions between May and June 2015, 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.
It is further alleged that, after learning there was an investigation into the dead Steller sea lions, Nichols and Turgeon obstructed the investigation by, among other things, removing the shotgun from the F/V Iron Hide and coordinating false stories between his crew members about the presence of shotguns and the shooting of sea lions. Turgeon is also charged with making false statements to a NOAA law enforcement agent, and Nichols is charged with obstructing and attempting to obstruct a grand jury investigation by endeavoring to influence his crew not to provide truthful information relevant to the investigation.
NOAA, Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA OLE) conducted the investigation leading to the indictment in this case. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Aunnie Steward.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.