Hall recalled one night years ago when he shot at one of the animals that surfaced near the stern: "He swam up under the lights with blood bubbling from its throat. A guy came up to me and said, 'You shouldn't have done that.' "
The man turned Hall in. "They said it would cost me $600 if I wanted to fight it or $300 if I just paid the fine, so I paid the fine," Hall said.
Peterson was once fined $2,000 for "scaring" two sea lions with his gun.
"It cost $1,500 to kill one and $1,000 to harass them," Peterson said. "At least it did 10 years ago."
Kaplan said the NMFS has the authority to assess fines of up to $10,000 for violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. "They vary, depending on the situation and who they are," Kaplan said.
In 1989, in a widely publicized case, Randolph T. Mansfield of Long Beach, a former employee at the bait storage barge inside Redondo's King Harbor, was charged with killing one of the federally protected animals by feeding it an explosive device concealed in a sardine.
Mansfield was given the maximum sentence of one year in prison, fined $500 and put on one year's probation.
The sea lion, named "Bobo" by residents and boaters who had grown fond of the animal, was found floating in the harbor. Federal investigators said they were aided in the case by "a flood of calls" that poured in after NBC publicized the investigation on its "Unsolved Mysteries" program.
Steven E. Mitchell of Redondo Beach was cited as a co-defendant and sentenced to 60 days in a community treatment center, fined $500, placed on five years' probation and assigned 1,200 hours of community service.
Willey said he knows of one customer who tried to dissuade the animals by injecting a mackerel "with the hottest hot sauce he can find" and throwing it over for the sea lion to devour. "But that didn't work," Willey added.
In fact, Willey said, the sea lions around the barge, led by the large bull, are growing not only fatter but bolder, often leaping out of the water to grab the fish as they are being reeled in.
"It's getting bad (everywhere), but it's really bad for us because we can't move," Willey said. "They know the barge. They know it's a free meal here."