The video, posted Monday to Facebook and Youtube and which you can see above, shows John Contello of Hazlet on board his father's 37-foot Sea Hunter boasting of the number of striped bass being caught as he looks down on a pile of fish in the back of his boat. He then proceeds to throw two of them through the air and back into the water.
"This is for people who want to know what Johnny Bucktail-style is,'' he boasts to the camera, referring to himself with a nickname lifted from a type of fishing lure.
Commenters attacked like sharks.
Many said the motionless bass appear to be dead and accused him of "culling," a practice, largely considered anathema, by which keeper-sized fish are kept only until another larger fish is caught. The smaller fish is then tossed back - dead or not - to avoid being caught by authorities with more than one fish.
Other viewers, unsure if they were dead, were simply appalled at how he threw them overboard, rather than releasing them gently as is considered more humane and sportsmanlike.
"Looks like you are pretty good at catching fish but you sir are not a fisherman.. you are an a--hole. This is a really bad look for you and your boys " wrote a Facebook user named Mike Murphy.
"You're a disgrace to striped bass fishermen,'' wrote another YouTube user. The video was taken down from Youtube shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Contello's father, who was not present when the video was filmed, defended his son, saying the fish were not dead. "They were only on the deck for a minute" before he released them, he said.
"My son goes by all the rules. He just happens to be a great fisherman, he catches a lot of fish a lot of the guys are f—ing jealous," said John Contello, who shares the same name as his son.
His son, a 19-year-old college student who has been fishing since age six, was fishing with five friends that day. He would never toss a dead fish overboard and has been traumatized by the internet backlash, Contello said.
"What they're doing to my son is horrible,'' he said.
He also defended the manner in which his son released the fish.
"People are saying that's not the way you release them,'' he said, "That's bull (expletive)."
"There's nothing wrong with tossing a fish head first back into the water," he added.
The video, which had more than 35,000 views on Facebook after just 21 hours online, was being circulated on fishing-related Facebook pages and message boards.
By mid afternoon many commenters were circulating photos and memes of his likeness, including one of a human skeleton with the caption "Me waiting for Johnny Bucktails to release a live bass." A headline on a forum thread atNewJerseyhunter.com reads, "This is why we can't have nice things."
By state law, anglers are allowed to keep only one striped bass between 28 and 43 inches in length and another above 43 inches per day. Special applications can be made for a "bonus tag" allowing one additional fish between 24 and 28 inches per year.
It is widely considered poor sportsmanship as well as harmful and, scientists say, possibly deadly to fish to toss them overboard the way Contello does in the video.
"I'm speechless,'' said John Tiedemann, Associate Dean at the Monmouth University School of Science who has led research into the mortality rates of fish that are hooked and then released.
Tiedemann said both the fish in the boat and the ones being sent airborne "appear to be dead" because there is no movement of the opercula, or gill cover. "He's clearly to me, culling for size,'' Tiedemann said. "But let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Let's say it's not dead. You then need to revive those fish."
Fishermen typically revive a fish tired from the fight by gently placing it in the water and allowing water to run through the mouth and over the gills, essentially helping it catch its breath.
Tiedemann said he was doubly outraged that the fish appear to be of spawning size.
"These are all big spawners that you're killing, what we call big fat fecund females," Tiedemann said. "So these are the spawners that you want to protect."
Contello's father said his son has revived fish before releasing them in the past, but he believes it's only necessary to do so when they have been out of the water for an extended period of time.
"If he had a fish for a long time, he would revive it,'' Contello said. "He's not a punk kid. He gets excited that he catches a lot of fish. And he's so upset over this."
A spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said Wildlife Conservation Officers with the state Division of Fish and Game were sent the video today and are looking into the matter. He had no further comment.Brian Donohue may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @briandonohue. Find NJ.com on Facebook.