Two fishermen sentenced for harassing, killing Steller sea lions

Jon Nichols of Cordova ordered to probation, home incarceration, $20,000 fine

Kate Savage, left, Noah Meisenheimer, and Lt. Matthew Keiper of the U.S. Coast Guard collect samples from a dead Steller sea lion near Cordova, in June 2015. Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries

Two fishermen were sentenced in federal court in Anchorage for harassing and killing 15 Steller sea lions with shotguns and obstructing an investigation into their criminal activities, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Anchorage announced on Nov. 7.

Jon Nichols, 31, of Cordova, was sentenced on Nov. 6 to five years of probation, three months of home incarceration, 400 hours of community service, and to 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 four years of probation, one month of home incarceration, 40 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine.

The two men pleaded guilty in June 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 began 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 the captain of the F/V Iron Ride and Turgeon was part of his crew.

Investigators said that on various occasions between May and June of 2015 that Nichols regularly directed his crew, including Turgeon, to shoot at Steller sea lions while fishing in the Copper River district. They used a pair of shotguns kept on board, one each belonging to Nichols and Turgeon. At times, Nichols would shoot the Steller sea lions himself. At other times, Nichols would drive his vessel in the direction of the Steller sea lions to allow Turgeon and other crew to get a better shot.

After learning of the investigation, from June 6, 2015 through October 2016, Nichols obstructed the investigation, authorities said. Nichols coordinated false stories between his crew members regarding the shootings and about the presence of firearms on board. For example, after encouraged to do so by Nichols, Turgeon lied to a NOAA Fisheries law enforcement agent, stating that crew did not shoot the sea lions and there were no guns on board, statements he knew to be false.