MALIBU Wildlife rescuers say at least three sea lions that washed ashore in Malibu earlier this month died of gunshot wounds, reports CBS Los Angeles.
Jonsie Ross with the California Wildfire Center said sea lion shootings happen every year in October when squid-fishing season begins.
"When the fishing season starts, Oct. 1, yeah, we actually have documented more sea lion shootings," she said.
The process to attract the squid to the surface of the water, which involves switching on a light, also attracts sea lions.
A popular area for squid-fishing is off the coast of Malibu. Donna Collins and her daughter were watching fishermen in Malibu one night when they said they were shocked to hear gunshots.
"We started hearing the gunshots. And they weren't M-80s, they weren't flash bombs. They were rifles," said Collins.
CBS2's Brittney Hopper reported that sea lions and other mammals are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Fishermen are allowed to use nonlethal means to scare the sea lions away.
Diane Pleschner-Steele, the director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, which represents the squid fishery, said fishermen who were recently fishing in Malibu are unaware of any shootings.
In a statement, Pleschner-Steele said, "Shooting is prohibited under the law, and CWPA members do not condone illegal activity."
A person could be fined $10,000 and face possible jail time if convicted of shooting a sea lion.