On Jan. 3, 2010, a Sunday, Jon Apothaker was fishing off the end of the Balboa Pier when he caught something big. He could tell by the tension in the line and the difficulty he had in trying to reel it in. The struggle went on for an hour.
Following the struggle and efforts to drag the fish to shore, Apothaker realized he had caught a 5-foot, 225-pound giant black sea bass. What he says he didn't realize was that the fish was an endangered species. In the days and months that followed, a legal battle flared up.
On Wednesday, Apothaker and his pro bono lawyer, Christopher McCann, finally saw their day in court and brought an end to that fateful fishing incident.
Initially, the district attorney's office was seeking a misdemeanor charge, with six months in prison and a $1,000 fine. After viewing the facts of the case, the judge at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach questioned whether a jury trial was necessary, according to McCann, who believed a trial was “a waste of court resources.”
Apothaker, of Valley Village in LA County, and John Brady, a Huntington Beach fisherman who helped bring the big fish to shore, were able to make a plea deal, reducing the charge to an infraction, and each will serve 120 hours of community service and pay a $75 fine.
Due to its standing as an endangered species, according to the DA, Apothaker should have immediately released the fish upon realizing what it was. But Apothaker maintained he didn't know the type of fish until it was up on the beach, and that's when he and Brady worked tirelessly to remove the hooks and save the fish.
Videos from bystanders (see below) were posted to YouTube and were the primary evidence for what went on that day. The defense said the men worked to save the fish; the DA said the fish should have been cut free far sooner.
Since the incident, Apothaker's appears to have made efforts to make a postive out of the situation, creating a website called Save the Sea Bass and worked with the United Pier & Shore Anglers of California (UPSAC) to help raise awareness. To fulfill his community-service hours, Apothaker plans to continue his work with UPSAC, according to McCann.
A pair of bystanders' videos of the incident show the fish and Apothaker's efforts to remove the hook.