MOREHEAD CITY — The saga of the 52nd annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament continues two years later as lawyers for the owners of the boat Citation announced plans to continue the fight all the way to the N.C. Supreme Court.
Last week, the N.C. Court of Appeals upheld an earlier ruling by Superior Court Judge John E. Nobles that said Big Rock officials were in the right to disqualify an 883-pound blue marlin caught in 2010 onboard the Citation.
The decision was not a unanimous one, however, as one of the judges hearing the case, Judge Robert C. Hunter, dissented in part.
“The dissenting opinion (by one of the judges) gives us the automatic right to appeal to the Supreme Court, and we’ve done that,” said Andy W. Gay, attorney for Andy Thomasson and Michael Topp, owners of the Hatteras-based boat.
Had all three judges agreed, the case would not be open for further appeal and the case would be closed.
The fish was disqualified because mate Peter Wann did not possess a valid N.C. Recreational Fishing License at the time the fish was caught and therefore was in violation of tournament rules.
The disqualification cost the owners of the boat $910,062.50 in prize money that would have been awarded had the fish been eligible. In addition, the fish would have set the tournament record for the largest blue marlin ever weighed in at the event’s scales.
Two years later, the near $1 million prize is still in limbo. A $318,750 chunk of that seven-digit figure is tied up in the Fabulous Fisherman’s 500 Level, which would have been given to the Citation thanks to the boat bringing in the first fish to the scales weighing 500 or more pounds.
That entire prize is due to go to Capt. Ed Petrilli who weighed in a 528.3-pound marlin on the third day of fishing onboard his boat Carnivore.
“We are happy that we won the first two cases we have been involved with,” said Big Rock President Casey Wagner. “We will just have to go and fight it again. I just hate that this has taken away from the tournament and all the good things that we do.”
The rest of the prize money will be split between the crew of the Carnivore and the now second-place crew onboard the Wet-N-Wild. The Wet-N-Wild crew, led by Capt. Tony Ross, weighed in a 460-pound blue marlin.
When the new figures are factored in, Capt. Petrilli and his crew are in line to take home the largest payday in Big Rock history, $999,543. The Wet-N-Wild crew is in line to receive a total prize of $275,322.
Both captains have already received their prize winnings for second and third places.
Judge Hunter’s argument in dissent and the basis for the Citation’s appeal is that Mr. Wann did not give the crew of Citation a competitive edge and therefore was not significant enough to warrant a disqualification.
“We have no idea how long the second appeal will last,” Big Rock Tournament Director Crystal Hesmer said. “We won the case, then we won the appeal. Now they are going to appeal again. We are just sad that this is taking away from our charities and from the worthy causes the tournament is associated with.”
The Big Rock blue Marlin tournament has donated over $2,492,691 to charity since 1988. In addition, the Keli Wagner Big Rock Lady Angler Tournament has given over $172,000 to charity in 15 years of existence.
The 54th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin tournament is currently ongoing and runs through Saturday.