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.


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.


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.


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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Northwest States, Tribes Apply To Feds For OK To Kill More Columbia Sea Lions


The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), along with a consortium of state and tribal partners, today submitted an expanded application to lethally remove California and Steller sea lions preying on threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River and its tributaries.


California sea lions — and increasingly, Steller sea lions — have been observed in growing numbers in the Columbia River basin, especially in the last decade. These sea lions prey heavily on salmon and steelhead runs listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including thousands of fish at Bonneville Dam each year.

The impacts come at a time when many Chinook salmon runs are already at historic lows.

The recovery of sea lions since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 1972 is a success story, said Kessina Lee, Region 5 director with WDFW. But that recovery has also brought challenges.

“The vast majority of these animals remain in coastal and offshore waters, but several hundred have established themselves in upriver locations,” Lee said. “Where salmon and steelhead numbers are low, any unmanaged increase in predation can cause serious problems.”

Predator management is a key part of a multi-faceted effort to restore salmon and steelhead populations in the Pacific Northwest.

“For decades, we’ve made strides in habitat restoration, hydropower policy, hatchery production, and fishery management, and we continue to work with our partners to further those initiatives,” Lee said. “Predator management remains an essential part of the equation.”

The application submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) by WDFW and its partners is the first since Congress passed an amendment to the MMPA in December 2018. That amendment, spearheaded by the Pacific Northwest congressional delegation, passed with strong bipartisan support and offers greater flexibility to wildlife managers when determining if a sea lion should be lethally removed in waters that host ESA-listed runs of salmon or steelhead.

“Based on years of experience working within the bounds of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Columbia River fishing tribes contend that predator management is necessary to restore balance to the Columbia River system,” said Ryan Smith, chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Strong partnerships and collaboration with the states, northwest congressional delegation, federal authorities, and nongovernment organizations resulted in this amendment, which applies robust tools to manage sea lions in the lower Columbia River and recognizes tribal sovereignty in that management.”

WDFW and its partners have taken steps to deter California sea lions in the Columbia River basin for more than a decade, but non-lethal measures have proven largely ineffective, driving animals away for only short periods. These hazing measures appear similarly ineffective against Steller sea lions. Non-lethal measures continue to be used as a short-term deterrent when appropriate.

Wildlife managers have conducted lethal removal operations of California sea lions in the Columbia River basin since 2008, when NMFS first issued a letter of authorization under section 120 of the MMPA. From 2008-2019, wildlife managers removed a total of 219 California sea lions that met the federal criteria for removal below Bonneville Dam.

Steller sea lions have not previously been subject to lethal removal.

“Prior to this legislation, wildlife managers were severely limited in their ability to effectively manage sea lions in these areas,” Lee said. “Additional action is required to protect these troubled fish stocks before they are completely eliminated. This is an unfortunate, but necessary step in the salmon recovery process.”

If approved, WDFW expects to begin humanely removing animals under the terms of the expanded application beginning in 2020. The application is subject to a public comment period and review by NMFS. Members of the public can review the application at https://wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2019-06/MMPA-120f-application.pdf.

Other entities submitting the application with WDFW include the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon (CTWSR), The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and the 3.6.D Committee, which includes ODFW, CTUIR, CTWSR, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community, and the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians of Oregon.

Bipartisan Salmon Predation Prevention Act Passed By US Senate Committee


Today, bipartisan legislation to build upon existing laws to manage the sea lion population passed by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The legislation, proposed by U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID), will give state and tribal fishery managers more flexibility to address predatory sea lions in the Columbia River system.


The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act, which helps protect endangered salmon and steelhead populations, passed without objection and will be considered next on the Senate floor. The bipartisan bill would allow wildlife agencies to better protect vulnerable fish populations through science-based management of these invasive, non-ESA listed sea lion populations, while also maintaining a strong Marine Mammal Protection Act that supports research, science-based management, and public process.

“Wild salmon are central to the culture, economy, and tribal treaty rights of the Pacific Northwest and protecting these fish is crucial to the health of Southern resident orcas,” said Senator Cantwell. “This science-based, bipartisan bill enhances existing tools that state and tribal wildlife managers need to address salmon predation, protect the health of sea lion stocks, and ensure that we are managing wildlife based on the best science available. Pacific salmon should be protected for generations to come.”

“Threatened and endangered species of salmon are being damaged by sea lions in the Columbia River, severely impacting Idaho’s efforts to restore the populations” said Senator Risch. “I’m grateful to Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson for making this a committee priority and for quickly advancing our bill.”

Support for this legislation is bipartisan and crosses multiple Pacific Northwest states. The governors of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon wrote to the Northwest Senate delegation in support of the bill, and the four chairs of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission have all voiced their support. The National Congress of American Indians has called the legislation “essential” to protect salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon.

“Congressional action is critical to reducing the numbers of sea lions that prey on salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce Botka. “We welcome the Senate’s progress and look forward to final passage of legislation that will enable the Northwest states and our tribal partners to better protect endangered fish.”

“We applaud the bi-partisan leadership of Senators Cantwell and Risch to get unanimous support today from the Senate Commerce Committee for S. 3119. The bill will expand the ongoing efforts of tribal and state co-managers who have collaborated both on the river and in Congress to address sea lion predation. This legislation reconciles two important conservation laws while it also recognizes the four treaty tribes expertise and role as caretakers of ancestral resources in the lower Columbia River basin,” said Jaime Pinkham, Executive Director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

“This bill provides a thoughtful and practical approach to addressing sea lion predation in critical areas of the Columbia River,” said Guido Rahr, President of the Wild Salmon Center. “It also for the first time enables managers to respond before the number and habits of sea lions become an insurmountable problem for returning wild salmon and steelhead populations. Salmon recovery requires a multi-faceted response. We appreciate the leadership of Senator Cantwell on this issue.”

“Senator Cantwell has stepped up during a crisis and delivered a solution to prevent extinction of fragile Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead stocks. The businesses of NSIA are appreciative of the Senator’s leadership in resolving this very tough issue. All who care about salmon recovery, food for Southern Resident Killer Whales, and have jobs that depend on healthy fish stocks owe Senator Cantwell our deepest gratitude,” said Liz Hamilton, Executive Director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

“Sea lions are killing as many as 43 percent of the spring-migrating Chinook salmon in the Columbia River, including threatened and endangered species. This is an immediate problem that needs an immediate solution, a more streamlined and effective process for removing the most problematic sea lions,”said Guy Norman, a Washington member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. “The bill enables states and tribes to deal with a major bottleneck to salmon survival. It’s a big win for the fish and for the people of the Northwest who are deeply invested in salmon recovery.

Federal, state, and tribal governments and other organizations have made significant conservation and restoration investments throughout the Pacific Northwest. Sea lion populations have increased significantly along the West Coast over the past 40 years; today, there are roughly 300,000. These sea lions have entered into habitat where they had never been before, including areas around the Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls.

recent study by Oregon State University found that increasing predation from sea lions has decreased the fishery harvest of adult Chinook salmon in the Pacific Northwest. According to the study, if sea lions continue their current salmon consumption habits, there is an 89 percent chance that a population of wild steelhead could go extinct. The study also noted that future long-term salmon management plans will need to address the increased salmon predation throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Companion legislation has already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.


The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation today passed a legislative proposal by U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-ID) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that would give state and tribal managers more flexibility in addressing predatory sea lions in the Columbia River system that are threatening both ESA-listed salmon and steelhead. S. 3119, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act, passed without objection and will be considered next on the Senate floor. Companion legislation has already passed the House.

“Threatened and endangered species of salmon are being damaged by sea lions in the Columbia River, severely impacting Idaho’s efforts to restore the populations,” said Senator Risch. “I’m grateful to Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson for making this a committee priority and for quickly advancing our bill.”

“Wild salmon are central to the culture, economy, and tribal treaty rights of the Pacific Northwest and protecting these fish is crucial to the health of Southern resident orcas,” said Senator Cantwell. “This science-based, bipartisan bill enhances existing tools that state and tribal wildlife managers need to address salmon predation, protect the health of sea lion stocks, and ensure that we are managing wildlife based on the best science available. Pacific salmon should be protected for generations to come.”

There are ESA threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead being significantly harmed by the increasing sea lion population. This predation of ESA-listed fish is negating the large investments being spent on salmon recovery associated with habitat, harvest, and hatcheries. If enacted, this bill would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to provide for better management of these invasive, non-listed sea lions.

Anglers Urged To Contact US Senators In Support Of Salmon-Sea Lion Bill

Northwest anglers are being urged to contact their U.S. senators to support a bill that would give salmon managers more leverage to deal with problematic pinnipeds.


The Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, S 3119, is expected to go before the Senate’s Commerce Committee this Wednesday.

With sea lions chewing up ESA-listed Chinook and steelhead, as well as other stocks, in the Columbia and its tribs, the bill would tweak the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow state and tribal to remove as many as an additional 100 a year.

The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association’s Liz Hamilton is urging people to call their two senators to “ask them to support the bill, and let them know that failure is not an option here. And be sure to thank them!”

The exact same bill, HR 2083, passed the U.S. House late last month with yes votes from every single Idaho, Oregon and Washington representative.

The Senate version is cosponsored by Idaho’s James Risch (R) and Washington’s Maria Cantwell (D) and was introduced in mid-June.

“Pacific salmon are central to our culture, our livelihoods, and our economy in the Pacific Northwest,” Cantwell said. “Taxpayers throughout Washington, Idaho, and Oregon have made significant investments in Pacific salmon restoration, and we must continue to support science-based management methods to ensure future generations have access to wild Pacific Northwest salmon.”

Cantwell’s office can be reached at (202) 224-3441.

Washington’s other U.S. Senator, Patty Murray, can be reached at  (202) 224-2621.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden can be reached at (202) 224-5244 while Senator Jeff Merkley can be reached at (202) 224-3753.

Since 2008, Northwest states have had the authority to move sea lions preying on salmon and steelhead below Bonneville Dam, including to euthanize the worst offenders.

Both bills in Congress would expand that down to the I-205 bridge over the Columbia and in any of its tribs with ESA-listed stocks.

And it would allow for NOAA to not only issue one-year permits to the states but also to a number of tribes including the Nez Perce, Warm Springs, Umatilla, Yakama and Cowlitz, as well as the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Last year, a CRITFC employee died on the way to perform sea lion counts after the boat he was on capsized due to strong winds.

It’s notable that both the House’s and Senate’s sea lion bills have received bipartisan support from the Northwest’s federal lawmakers.

“I want to thank my colleague Senator Risch for working with me on this bipartisan, science-based solution that will help protect salmon for future generations,” said Cantwell, who is a Democrat of the Idaho Republican.