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Fisherman Arrested Over Sea Lion’s Death

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Pedro commercial fisherman has been arrested for allegedly putting an explosive device in a fish and feeding it to a wild sea lion nicknamed Jelly, blowing up the animal’s head.

The sea lion’s bloody death near Berth 73 in Los Angeles Harbor was witnessed by numerous horrified onlookers, police said, including a group of schoolchildren who were passing by in a harbor tour boat.

After a lengthy investigation, Los Angeles Port Police arrested Vincent Terzoli, 39, at his home in San Pedro on Friday on a felony charge of cruelty to animals in the April 8 incident. The charge carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a $20,000 fine. After his arrest, Terzoli denied injuring the animal, telling reporters: “This is nothing but a lie.”

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Port Police Lt. Martin Renteria said Jelly, also known as Oscar, had for several years been a frequent visitor at waterfront commercial fish markets in the area and often was fed fish scraps by workers.

“Jelly was part of the community,” Renteria said. “He was almost a pet. It would be like somebody going out and killing your dog or cat.”

According to police, Terzoli was aboard his docked fishing boat, the St. Joseph, when he fed the sea lion a fish carcass booby-trapped with a “seal bomb,” a device similar to an M-80 firecracker that has the explosive power of a quarter of a stick of dynamite. The sea lion swam away with the fish in its mouth and was eating it when the seal bomb went off. The animal’s body sank and was not recovered.

Renteria said the motive for the attack was not known. But many commercial fishermen complain that sea lions, which have become increasingly numerous in recent years, often steal their catch. Fishermen are allowed to use seal bombs as a last resort to scare away persistent sea lions but are not permitted to injure them.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Erica Martin of the environmental crimes division of the Los Angeles district attorney’s office is prosecuting the case. “We believe the killing of sea lions is rampant among fishermen,” she said. “We intend to send a message that this will not be tolerated.”

However, a woman who works in the commercial fishing industry in San Pedro, who declined to be quoted by name, said she hopes not all fishermen will be blamed for the alleged actions of one.

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“I’m afraid this is going to give fishermen a bad name,” she said. “I think most fishermen have a lot of respect for all sea life. All the people who work on the wharf were sad to see something like this happen. That sea lion wasn’t bothering anybody.”

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