Petersburg Harbormaster, Glorianne Wollen, has issued an alert to the public stating there will be no more fish waste disposal allowed in Petersburg harbors effective immediately.
“We have had a big problem with aggressive sea lions around the fish cleaning stations,” Wollen said. “It is nice to have the stations, but we seem to be drawing the sea lions in by the fish waste.”
Wollen is asking that fishermen clean the fish and throw the waste out before they come back to the harbor, or take the waste away from the harbor after cleaning the fish.
“This issue will be discussed at the next Borough Assembly meeting, but we knew we needed to do something about it now,” Wollen stated. “We have one really aggressive sea lion and we are worried about the kids walking along the floats.”
According to Wollen there were some close calls over the derby weekend regarding this particular sea lion and the public.
“This really isn't something that we want to do but we are stuck between a rock and a hard place with this problem,” she stated. “Dumping the carcasses into the water for the sea lions to eat is also against federal law and this has been brought to our attention by the National Marine Fishery Service Enforcement Officer, Jerod Cook.”
Cook explained that current harbor policy allows for the dumping of fish waste but will more than likely need to be changed.
“It is fine to dump the waste if the sea lions aren't right there waiting for the meal,” Cook stated. “Since it is bringing in the animals this is a violation of the federal law.”
Under National Marine Fisheries Services, which is a part of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA Fisheries, the regulation reads as: Feeding, attempting to feed and harassment of marine mammals in the wild by anyone is prohibited by regulations enacted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
This has been made illegal because it is harmful to the animals in the following ways: It causes marine mammals to lose their natural wariness of humans or boats and become conditioned to receiving handouts and associate people with food. It changes their natural behaviors, including feeding and migration activities and decreases their willingness to forage for food on their own. They may also begin to take bait/catch from fishing gear. These changed behaviors may be passed on to their bond and other members of their social groups and increases their risk of injury from boats, entanglement in fishing gear and intentional harm by people frustrated with the behavioral changes. Some of the items that are fed to marine mammals may be contaminated, old or spoiled, or not food at all. Feeding marine mammals inappropriate food, non-food items or contaminated food jeopardizes their health. Marine mammals sometimes become aggressive when seeking food and are known to bite or injure people when teased or expecting food.
“I have been somewhat lax in the enforcement of this up to this point,” Cook stated. “This will have to be changed before someone gets hurt.”
Cook explained that he will work co-operatively with the Borough to bring this problem to a stop.
“I plan to work with the Assembly and educate the public as much as possible throughout the summer,” Cook stated. “From this point, I have to take a stronger stance on this issue.”
According to Cook there have been reports of sea lions jumping onto the dock looking for waste.
“I don't know that they have come all the way out of the water,” Cook said. “These animals can be very intimidating.”
Cook stated that he is making this call based on federal law and intentional or not, feeding the sea lions is prohibited.