Given New Jersey's storied mafia history, it might be said that you can't swing a cat in the state without hitting a mobster.
Apparently, you can also try throwing a striped bass.
The New Jersey fisherman who sparked a firestorm of internet criticism for a web video in which he boastfully throws and mishandles fish is the son of a New York City mafia captain sent to federal prison in 2008, NJ Advance Media confirmed.
Both father and son share the same name of John Contello, with only their nicknames differing: "Big John," the nickname listed in federal indictments for the father; and "Johnny Bucktail", after a type of fishing lure, for the son.
In a pair of interviews yesterday and today, Contello's father blamed the backlash on older fishermen's jealousy towards a 19-year-old who catches more fish than they do.
"He wouldn't do that,'' he said of mistreating fish or culling his catch. "My son is a good fisherman. He's never been in any trouble."
Contello, of Hazlet, continued to defend his son's handling of the fish, but said he spoke with his son about being too boastful about his fishing prowess.
"I told him not to rub it in people's faces," Contello said.
The younger Contello issued a heartfelt apology earlier today, a day after the video he posted of himself on board his father's 37-foot boat sparked outrage and prompted one fishing tackle company to drop their sponsorship of him.
"I know the video looks bad folks, but it's not what it seemed — and forgive my excitement, it was a mad dog bite and we were all very excited," the Hazlet teen wrote on his Facebook page. "I've released a lot of big fish over the years and have taken great care in those trophy releases — perhaps I need to be more respectful..I got the message."
His apology came less than a day after officials with fishing reel manufacturer Accurate Fishing of Corona, California posted a message on the company's Facebook page announcing they were dissolving the relationship with Johnny Bucktail based on his behavior in the video.
"Accurate is based on true ethical treatment of gamefish and unfortunately the video we saw is in direct conflict of those beliefs. We want all our supporters to know we do not support such practices and will not be associated with anyone that does."
A woman who answered the phone at the company headquarters said she was not immediately authorized to comment.
The video, posted Monday to Facebook, shows the 19-year-old standing next to a pile of striped bass on the deck of the 37-foot Sea Hunter owned by his father, "Big John" Contello, a convicted organized crime figure.
The younger Contello boasts of the number of striped bass or "stripers" being caught. He then proceeds to throw two of them through the air and back into the water.
While not a licensed charter boat captain, Contello is well known in the Raritan Bayshore for his hot-shot approach and fishing prowess that landed him on the cover of the widely read The Fisherman magazine.
The video sparked outrage on Facebook and fishing and hunting forums from New Jersey to California, turning him into a pariah in the long simmering debate over whether to keep for or release them, and how fish should be treated.
Brian Kirby, who runs the New England based fishing web site Redneckangler.com said his Facebook post about Contello drew 75,000 views over two days — more traffic than he's ever had in an entire week.
"The video did touch a nerve,'' he said in an email. "The overwhelming reaction was negative, pretty much unrepeatable."
Many commenters said the motionless bass appear to be dead and accused him of "culling," a practice, largely considered anathema.
Others commenters were appalled at how Contello threw them overboard, rather than releasing them gently as is considered more humane and sportsmanlike.
In his apology, the younger Contello says none of the fish he tossed back were dead.
"If perhaps if I've treated this great fish in a way other than with the great respect it deserves, I'm sorry — and I've learned a great deal from this experience," he wrote in his Facebook apology.
Contello Sr., a former Brooklyn resident, was named by federal authorities in an August 2008 indictment charging him with racketeering and racketeering conspiracy and naming him as a captain in the Bonnano organized crime family. He pleaded guilty in March 2009 to collecting unlawful debts.
He was released from federal prison three years later, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons web site.
"What's that got to do with my son catching fish?" he replied when asked about his reputed mob past.