Two fishermen sentenced for possessing protected sea bass

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Posted by Max Bottomtime on March 17, 2011 at 15:24:56:

Two fishermen were sentenced Wednesday to 120 hours of community service for illegally possessing a protected species of giant black sea bass at Balboa Pier last year in a case that generated headlines because of widely viewed online videos.

Jonathan Paul Apothaker, 46, of Valley Village, and John Francis Brady, 46, of Huntington Beach, had the misdemeanor charges against them reduced to infractions as part of the plea deal, Apothaker's attorney Christopher McCann said.

Orange County prosecutors objected to the plea deal offered by Orange County Commissioner Richard Pacheco, who also ordered the pair to pay $75 fees, McCann said.

The fishermen will perform their community service with the state Department of Fish and Game or by doing some sort of beach clean-up, McCann said.

Attempts to reach Orange County Deputy District Attorney Yvette Patko, who was assigned to the case, were not successful after business hours.

Apothaker and Brady did not know each other before they were accused of hooking the endangered fish and struggling together to bring it to shore Jan. 3, 2010.

The two were fishing off Balboa Pier in Newport Beach when Apothaker caught the bass and struggled to bring it out of the water until his fishing line broke, Orange County prosecutors alleged.

Brady saw what happened and offered to help Apothaker in exchange for half of the fish, prosecutors alleged.

Prosecutors accused Brady of putting
grappling hooks in the fish's mouth and using his boat to nudge the fish toward the beach and alleged Apothaker swam out to the boat, grabbed the fish and swam with it to shore.
Several beachgoers videotaped the two during the struggle with the fish, including Apothaker holding it upright like a trophy for photos, and uploaded it online to sites such as YouTube.

McCann said the entire episode amounted to a misunderstanding. He said Apothaker was doing everything he could to get the hook out of the fish's mouth and then spent 45 minutes with the help of a surfer, getting it back into the ocean so it could revive itself.

"I was looking forward to trial because I think Mr. Apothaker would have been vindicated," McCann said. "I don't think he did anything wrong. Under the circumstances, he did everything he could to rescue this fish."

However, Apothaker accepted the plea deal because "he felt it would allow him the opportunity to continue contributing some community service hours to the cause of informing people of the plight of the sea bass while at the same time avoiding a waste of court resources," McCann said.

Apothaker "wants everyone to know he did not gaff the fish," McCann said, adding he was not even aware it was a giant black sea bass.

"It wasn't what he was fishing for," McCann said. "He told me many times it was a beautiful fish and he was going to return it."

Apothaker brought the fish ashore because he was having too much trouble getting the hook out with the waves pounding at him, McCann said.

When he finally got the hook out, some beachgoers encouraged him to hold it up for pictures, so he obliged, McCann said.

However, he then quickly got it back into the ocean to try to revive it by pushing it back down into the water and moving it back and forth, McCann said.

Prosecutors alleged last year that the 62-inch, 140 to 200-pound fish washed up ashore a week later. McCann said there is no proof the fish involved in this case ever died.

"To this day we still can't be sure that fish is not alive," he said.

If the two had been convicted at trial they would have faced up to six months in jail.

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