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Black sea bass incident lands two men in court

March 18, 2011 |  9:26 am

A Newport Beach angler and a boater pleaded guilty Wednesday to an infraction for an incident involving a giant black sea bass caught last year near the Balboa Pier.

The January incident, of which video was posted on YouTube, showed a then-unidentified Jonathan Apothaker dragging the fish onto the sand amid a crowd of cheering and shouting beach-goers in what appeared to be an instance of a good Samaritan rescuing the state-protected species.

Authorities said it was at that point that Apothaker, of Valley Village, broke the law -- black sea bass must be immediately released.

"Once the fish landed on the surface of the water, it was about 40, 45 minutes between the time it was dragged on shore, left on shore and then returned to the water," Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Yvette Patko told NBC Los Angeles.

Apothaker, who hooked the fish, maintained his innocence, saying, "I had nothing to do with gaffing the fish, or beating it over the head. The only thing I performed was the rescue."

Boater John Brady, from Huntington Beach, became involved because another video showed him using a hook to try to pull the estimated 150-pound fish nearer to his vessel.

The men had faced up to six months in jail on a charge of misdemeanor possession of a black sea bass. But Orange County Commissioner Richard E. Pacheco agreed to a plea bargain which reduced the violation to an infraction, the Daily Pilot reported.

Each man has been ordered to perform 120 hours of community service cleaning beaches or working for the California Department of Fish and Game.

Though Brady seemed annoyed, saying that "it's the wrong way of making a point. There's other ways of going about it other than wasting taxpayers' dollars on an issue like this," Apothaker seemed to come away with some advice for anglers.

"If you don't know what it is ... just leave it alone and call Fish and Game."

-- Kelly Burgess

Video credit: JoshuaJonesCS via YouTube