Zalophus californianus are well protected in most areas. Occasionally, they are trapped with a permit for display in zoos, aquariums, and circuses (Mate, 1979). In Mexico, a few California sea lions are trapped each year, while in the United States they are fully protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Occasionally California sea lions pose a problem for fishermen by stealing fish from commercial fishermen netting. A significant number of California sea lions have been killed as a result of getting tangled in discarded fishing gear. (Riedman, 1990). From 1983 to 1984, Zalophus californianus experienced a decline of 60 percent in pup production from previous years. Also during this time food resources declined, which led to inhibited growth and increased mortality. During this time mothers left their pups earlier in search of food, which truncated the lactation period, thus reducing the amount of nutrients a pup received and making it more susceptible to death.
According to IUCN, the following subspecies are recognized:
Zalophus californianus ssp. japonicus (extinct)
Zalophus californianus ssp. wollebaeki (vulnerable)
Zalophus californianus ssp. californianus (no special status).