Two Alaska Men Sentenced for Harassing, Killing Steller Sea Lions and Obstructing the Investigation into Their Illegal Activities
Anchorage, Alaska – U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder announced that two Alaska men were sentenced yesterday in federal court for harassing and killing Steller sea lions with shotguns, and obstructing the government’s investigation into their criminal activities.
Jon Nichols, 31, of Cordova, was sentenced yesterday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah M. Smith, to serve five years of probation, three months of home incarceration, 400 hours of community service, and pay a $20,000 fine. Nichols is also required to publish a public apology in a national magazine covering commercial fishing. Theodore “Teddy” Turgeon, 21, of Wasilla, was sentenced to serve four years of probation, one month of home incarceration, 40 hours of community work service, and pay a $5,000 fine.
In June 2018, Nichols and Turgeon each pleaded guilty to one count of Marine Mammal Protection Act – Illegal Take. Nichols also pleaded guilty to one count of Obstruction of a Marine Mammal Protection Act Investigation.
According to court documents, a federal investigation was launched after 15 Steller sea lions were found dead at the mouth of the Copper River, during the opening of the 2015 Copper River salmon season. During that season, Nichols was captain of the Fishing Vessel (F/V) Iron Hide, and Turgeon was part of his crew. The investigation revealed that, on various occasions between May and June 2015, Nichols regularly directed his crew, including Turgeon, to shoot at Steller sea lions while fishing in the Copper River fishing district. The shootings were carried out using a pair of shotguns kept aboard the vessel, one each belonging to Nichols and Turgeon. At times, Nichols would shoot the Steller sea lions himself, and at other times, Nichols would drive the F/V Iron Hide in the direction of the Steller sea lions to allow Turgeon and his crew to get a better shot.
After learning there was an investigation into the dead Steller sea lions, from June 6, 2015, through October 2016, Nichols obstructed the investigation by, among other things, coordinating false stories between his crew members regarding the shooting of sea lions and about the presence of firearms aboard the vessel. 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.
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.
NOAA, Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA OLE) conducted the investigation leading to the successful prosecution of this case. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Aunnie Steward.