Alaska fishermen sentenced for killing endangered sea lions

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska salmon boat skipper has been fined $20,000 for killing endangered Steller sea lions with shotguns.

Federal prosecutors say 31-year Jon Nichols was sentenced Tuesday to five years' probation, three months of home confinement and 400 hours of community service.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Smith also ordered him to publicly apologize in a national commercial fishing magazine.

Smith sentenced 21-year-old crewman Theodore "Teddy" Turgeon to four years' probation, one month of home incarceration and 40 hours of community service. He was fined $5,000.

Federal officials investigated after 15 Steller sea lions in 2015 were found dead at the mouth of the Copper River.

Nichols and Turgeon in June pleaded guilty to illegal take of marine mammals.

At the time of the offenses, Nichols was captain of the Fishing Vessel Iron Hide, while Turgeon was a deckhand on the boat.

According to the indictment, on various occasions between May and June 2015, Captain Nichols allegedly regularly directed his crew, including Turgeon, to get a shotgun kept on board the vessel and shoot at Steller sea lions. Nichols would occasionally shoot the animals himself and at other times, direct the boat in the direction of the mammals to allow Turgeon to get a better shot.

There are further allegations that upon learning of the investigation, Nichols and Turgeon obstructed the investigation by removing the shotgun from the vessel and getting the crew to lie about their alleged activities and about there being a shotgun on board.

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.

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