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710’s Tom Nelson facing $2,500 fine for giving salmon scrap to harbor seal

Left to right, Brock Huard, Dori Monson, and Tom Nelson made lifelong connections in Alaska on Dori's first-ever fishing trip.

Tom Nelson of 710 ESPN’s Outdoor Line is now on the line, himself, for $2,500 to the federal government. The crime? He fed a scrap of salmon to a harbor seal.

While KING 5 was filming a piece on Nelson’s boat concerning the Chinook shortage in Puget Sound a year ago, a group of harbor seals and sea lions was, as usual, hanging around the boat.

Nelson was caught on camera tossing a scrap of Chinook that he had legally harvested to a harbor seal. The bony scrap would have been inedible for humans, he explained.

The salmon flick was not done absent-mindedly — Nelson wanted to demonstrate how eager the seals and sea lions are to grab any Chinook they can get.

Whale watchers could be key to saving Southern Resident orcas

“I knew that what I was doing would draw attention to the issue, which was why I did it,” Nelson said to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

The endangered Southern Resident killer whales rely on Chinook as their main food source, but are currently starving due to a lack in Chinook in the Puget Sound. Nelson believes the orcas’ plight is in no small part due to the pinnipeds — the seals and sea lions.

“The overpopulation of harbor seals and sea lions in Puget Sound [is] why we are in the fix we are in currently, with regard to Chinook,” he said.

According to research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Nelson said, pinnipeds are taking seven times the combined human harvest of Chinook, and twice the amount needed by the Southern Residents.

“I’m not advocating wide-open seasons on harbor seals, I’m not,” Nelson said. “But there’s a problem here.”

Dispute with the feds over a harbor seal

When Nelson got home the day the KING 5 piece aired, he received a phone call from NOAA informing him that by feeding the harbor seal, he had violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and now owed $500. Nelson flat-out refused to pay it.

“I’m going to use this as a public education piece,” he said.

Now a year later, Nelson received a registered letter from the federal government declaring that he was guilty of a “take.” For the federal government, a “take” refers to killing, capturing, harassing, or attempting to do any of the above to a marine mammal.

“NOAA does not discriminate between feeding and killing a harbor seal,” Nelson said, adding, “It seems like I’m in a position to have a little bit of fun with the federal government here.”

The amount Nelson owes is now up to $2,500. He is as determined as ever not to pay it.

Because it’s a civil violation and not a criminal one, Nelson said that he is not worried about being denied a fishing license as a repercussion.

“Before they get a nickel out of me, they can go ahead and lock me up,” Nelson said. ” Because we need to publicize this issue.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.


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