Seattle Outdoor Radio Host Faces $2,500 Fine For Feeding Seal A Fish Fin

A Puget Sound pier angler who involuntary fed a harbor seal his Chinook this morning won’t face a fine.

But a local radio show host who flicked a dorsal fin to another lurking like “dogs at the dinner table” to illustrate the marine mammal’s overabundance and impact on ESA-listed salmon stocks in the inland sea faces a bill that’s grown to $2,500 for doing so.

TOM NELSON WITH A BRITISH COLUMBIA CHINOOK. (TOM NELSON)

Official advice to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration law enforcement: Don’t hold your breath that a check from Tom Nelson will be in the mail anytime soon.

“I. Ain’t. Payin’.” is the text the host of The Outdoor Line on Seattle’s 710 ESPN sent out last night to a fellow broadcaster.

Instead, Nelson says he’s “going to war” with the federal fishery overseers over the issue.

“NOAA has to become part of the solution to our problems and right now they are a big part of the problem!” he emailed Northwest Sportsman magazine this morning.

The same day last summer that KING 5 taped him throwing the inedible fin of a Chinook he caught to the seal at an Everett marina he got a voice mail from a federal game warden that he was on the hook for $500.

Nelson didn’t pay the fine and he recently received a registered letter from the feds upping the amount and stating that he was guilty of a “take,” according to an article on MyNorthwest.com that’s based on a 12-minute interview late this week on the Dori Monson Show.

He continues to contend that the plight of our southern resident killer whales is directly linked to too many harbor seals and sea lions eating too much of their key feedstock — Chinook.

A HARBOR SEAL STEALS A CHINOOK IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

Recent papers say that in the 45 years that led up to 2015, Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca, San Juan Islands and Hood Canal harbor seals and sea lions “consumed double that of resident killer whales and six times greater than the combined commercial and recreational catches,” and that harbor seals “accounted for 86.4% of the total coast wide (Chinook) smolt consumption in 2015” as their numbers mushroomed from more than 8,500 to nearly 78,000 over a 40-year period.

On Monson’s show, Nelson contrasted the speedy notice that he was initially facing a $500 fine with NOAA’s perceived foot-dragging in approving hatchery genetic management plans that lead to lawsuits by NGOs which lead to closed operations, as well as the delay of a fishery in California this year.

“NOAA can’t get their homework done for us to do fisheries, in time for the state to be insulated from litigation, and yet they can find the time to hook me for throwing a dorsal fin to a harbor seal,” Nelson said.

The two facets do represent different elements of NOAA’s large workload, one of which is enforcing the Congressionally approved Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

Under it a “take” not only includes killing or trying to kill a seal or sea lion, but feeding or attempting to.

But here’s where it might get interesting: The full text on feeding states “in the wild.”

Nelson contends the harbor seal he flicked the fishy bit to was inside a manmade harbor, an “artificial” structure and “not a natural body of water.”

Furthermore, the seals there are “completely habituated to human presence,” he also told Monson.

A HARBOR SEAL LURKS OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE OFF KINGSTON LAST JULY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

NOAA spokesman Michael Milstein said agency policy is “to not comment on law enforcement cases” and emailed me links to an FAQ on why not to feed marine mammals and a link to what take means.

Neither publication define the word “wild,” nor does the MMPA specifically — at least in a layman’s quick reading — though it could also be construed as not in captivity.

NOAA’s FAQs do state that feeding seals “can cause them to lose their natural wariness of humans or boats and condition them to beg for handouts instead of foraging for their normal prey.”

That’s what appears to have happened with one of the “water puppies” hanging out at Nelson’s marina begging for scraps and got him in hot water with the government.

But instead of being scared, he plans to use the issue to highlight the problem of too many pinnipeds eating too many Chinook, which along with reduced hatchery and wild salmon production, vessel disturbance and pollution are decreasing orcas’ ability to thrive.

“Before they get a nickel out of me, they can go and lock me up,” Nelson told Monson.

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