Anglers plead guilty in endangered fish death

The two fishermen who hauled a massive black sea bass to shore at the Balboa Pier pleaded guilty Wednesday and were sentenced to 120 hours of community service.

They had faced up to six months in jail for catching the endangered species. Prosecutors had charged the two with misdemeanor possession of a black sea bass after they were videotaped with the fish, and their images landed on YouTube.

Orange County Commissioner Richard E. Pacheco agreed to the plea bargain, which reduced their violation to an infraction. Prosecutors objected to the plea bargain, according to Orange County district attorney's office spokeswoman Farrah Emami.

Jon Apothaker of Valley Village was fishing on the pier while John Brady of Huntington Beach was fishing below the pier in a small boat in January 2010 when

Apothaker got a bite. It was a giant black sea bass, more than 5 feet long and weighing between 140 and 200 pounds.

Apothaker struggled with the fish for about an hour until his line broke. Then Brady offered to help from below if Apothaker would agree to give up half the fish. He agreed, and Brady helped by towing the fish close to shore. Apothaker swam out, and brought it to the beach by hand.

There, he posed with the giant bass before releasing it.

Apothaker said that once he learned that the fish was endangered, he and Brady tried to save it. Apothaker said he massaged its gills for up to 45 minutes trying to resuscitate it until it finally swam away weakly.

Days later, the bass washed up on dead on the shore, authorities said. The two men claimed there was no proof it was the same fish.

Giant sea bass can live to be 100 years old, and the fish they caught was estimated to be 20 to 25 years old. They have been a critically endangered species since 1996.

In what he said was an effort to educate anglers about the black sea bass, Apothaker began making and selling T-shirts with warnings to not gaff the creatures. He also created

Apothaker's attorney, Christopher McCann, said the outreach effort may have helped his client.

"I think the judge was persuaded by that," McCann said.

He will serve his community service hours with the United Pier and Shore Anglers of California, a nonprofit that educates pier and shore anglers in fish ecology and conservation.

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