On January 3, 2010, Jon Apothaker caught an ugly-as-sin slimeball of a fish while casting his line off the Balboa Pier. The fish was a giant sea bass, a critically endangered species more likely to be found in an aquarium than at the end of a line.
Apothaker says he didn't know what he'd caught while he was reeling it in for an hour, or when he dragged the 225-pound, five-foot-long fish up the sand on a grappling hook. Now the catch may come back to bite him in the ass, thanks to the Internet.
The problem is this pesky YouTube video, which shows Apothaker posing next to the fish with a shit-eating grin on his face and a fishing pole in his hand. The law states that the fish must be “immediately returned to the water,” and Apothaker didn't return the nearly lifeless bass to the ocean until after he'd gotten his picture. The fish was found washed up dead on the shore a short time later, according the Newport Beach Animal Control.
Initially, the California Department of Fish and Game decided the catch was an accident. Then the video surfaced, and complaints from the public lead the DFG to reconsider. The case was passed to the Orange County District Attorney's office. If the DA decides to file criminal charges, Apothaker could face a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail.
Apothaker has already secured a lawyer. DUI defender Christopher J. McCann
is so convinced that Apothaker did everything he could to save the fish, even while ignorant of its protected status, that McCann is representing his client pro bono.
Which raises an interesting question. Why did Apothaker work so diligently to remove the hook, then revive the fish in the water, if he didn't know it was illegal goods?
“Because it was such a magnificent beast. I thought, wow, its a glorious, Biblical fish and I wanted it to live when I saw it floating on the surface.”
In the meantime, Apothaker “wants to turn this unfortunate accident into a positive one.” So, he created Save The Sea Bass.com.
Apothaker has started selling T-shirts and artwork via the website in order to teach other anglers what he says he never knew.
“I've been fishing for ten months to a year; nobody ever told me that the sea bass could be this gigantic. I did know it was a protected fish, I just didn't know what it looked like.”
A $20 donation to the “Save the Sea Bass Fund,” addressed to McCann's office, will get you a T-shirt screen printed with the image of a sea bass. Apothaker and McCann promise to give the money after costs to “a leading non-profit marine research organization.”
If you're not hooked by the sweet screen printing, they'd be more than happy to take your twenty bones for nothing.
“If you would like to help support Jon, you can make a donation to the Jon Apothaker Defense Fund, by sending a check, cashiers check or money order made out to 'The Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann.'”
McCann insists that it's not a money making scheme, but a way to get funds for his defense, just in case.
“If he gets charged he's going to need experts and a private investigator to defend him. I don't see any of that money.” (In a hint at a possible defense strategy, Apothaker and McCann assert that no one has proven that the bass that washed up dead was the same bass Apothaker caught–or even that one actually washed up.)
McCann also insists that Apothaker never said the now infamous, “Gee, that would have been a lot of fish tacos,” line, as reported by Newport Beach's Daily Pilot.
“It went through his mind, but he didn't say it.”
Thank us later, Mr. Apothaker, because you got us thinking, too. Just how many tacos would that make? Click here for the answer and a recipe that will make your next fiesta a big, big hit! 225-pound fish not included.