Two fishermen were charged Thursday with misdemeanors for allegedly catching a critically endangered giant black sea bass off the Balboa Pier in January, prosecutors said. The fish they hauled in measured 62 inches long (more than five feet) and weighed between 140 and 200 pounds, authorities had determined.
John Francis Brady, 45, from Huntington Beach, and Jonathan Paul Apothaker, 45, from Valley Village, face up to six months in jail on misdemanor possession of a black sea bass, which is listed as critically endangered in California by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Prosecutors and the defendants agree on most of what happened that day.
On Jan. 3, the two men were fishing separately at the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach. Brady was in a small boat on the water, and Apothaker was on the pier above. That afternoon, Apothaker got a bite. It was a giant black sea bass.
The fish was 20 to 25 years old. The species can live to be 100 years old.
Apothaker struggled with the fish for about an hour until his line broke. Then Brady offered tohelp from below if Apothaker would agree to give up half the fish. He agreed and the battle was on.
Brady grabbed the broken line and Apothaker swam out to help him. Together the men towed the monster fish to shore while it was still alive.
Here's where prosecutors and the men's account differ.
Prosecutors claim that the men pulled the fish out and posed with it as a trophy. Apothaker told the Daily Pilot in January that once he learned that the fish was endangered, he and Brady tried to save it. He said he massaged its gills for up to 45 minutes trying to rescucitate it until it finally swam away weakly. Days later the bass washed up on dead on the shore, authorities said.
The men seemed to be off the hook initially, but as dozens of videos of the incident appeared on YouTube in the days after, authorities reexamined the case. Both men are scheduled to be arraigned July 16 in the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach.