July 23, 2010

UPDATE…It’s a deadlock when parties meet to discuss Big Rock winner


The fight over winnings in last month’s 2010 Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament continues after attorneys and representatives of the disqualified boat owners and the tournament locked horns and didn’t budge during an informal meeting this week.  

In a statement issued Friday by the tournament, Brad Evans, attorney for the Crystal Coast Tournament Inc., said that its board of directors remains “firm in its decision to disqualify the marlin caught by the Citation based on violation of tournament rules.”

The Citation, which hails from Hatteras, was stripped of its claim to more than $1 million for catching a record 883-pound marlin because a mate lacked a valid fishing license at the time the big fish was hooked.

Owners for the vessel contend that a license was not required then because the vessel was in international waters, and they filed a lawsuit on July 1. The tournament answered the claim in Dare County on July 19.

At the meeting in Morehead City on Tuesday, July 20,  the tournament statement said, an opportunity was given to the Citation to present its case to the board. But the panel made no reversal of its June 22 decision to disqualify the Hatteras boat and instead award the winnings to the second place vessel, the Carnivore.

 “The litigation essentially continues,” Evans said on Friday. “The board made up its mind and has not changed its position.”

After learning of the press release, Andy Gay, the Citation’s attorney, said late Friday afternoon that the tournament is in breach of an agreement reached at the meeting to not make statements about the case until all the parties had been joined in the lawsuit and had a chance to review the documents.

 “It’s the biggest amount of grandstanding I’ve ever seen in my life,” Gay said. “I’ll see them in court.” 

 Gay said that the hope was that the matter could be resolved quickly, saving everyone legal fees and ill will.

But it appears that the case is destined to move forward with more discovery and depositions. The owners of the Carnivore and the Wet N’ Wild, named the second place winner, will be joined in the lawsuit in the coming days, Gay said. Both owners, he said, have requested mediation.

 “If they are firm in their position, the only place to go is back to court where we started,” he said, referring to the tournament.  “May the best man win . . . and the biggest fish.”

(Catherine Kozak, a former reporter for The Virginian-Pilot in the Nags Head office, is now a freelance writer for The Island Free Press and other publications.)    

July 20, 2010

No money to Big Rock competitors until
legal dispute is resolved, judge rules


No money will be handed to any 2010 Big Rock Marlin Tournament competitors until a legal dispute about the prizes is resolved.

A lawsuit was filed Monday in Dare County Superior Court by Big Rock Foundation, Inc. in answer to a July 1 complaint filed by the owners of the Hatteras-based Citation, the charter boat that was disqualified from first place winnings of more than $1 million in the June contest because a mate lacked a fishing license when the fish was caught.

In its amended complaint and counterclaim, Big Rock asserts that the Citation crew was in violation of North Carolina fishing regulations as well as tournament rules when an 883-pound marlin was landed by mate Peter Wann.

Big Rock’s attorney Brad Evans, with the Greenville firm Ward and Smith, said Tuesday that their earlier filing in Carteret County has been dropped, and the case will now be heard in Dare County.

Evans said that it is too soon to speculate whether a settlement prior to as-yet unscheduled court hearings may be able to resolve the legal questions.

“I can’t say one way or another,” he said.

A consent order signed on July 14 by Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett stated that defendants Big Rock Foundation and Crystal Coast Tournament shall not pay any of the $1,231,575 in contested prize money until ordered to do so by the court.

The agreement also said that plaintiffs Michael Topp, Duncan Thomasson, Martin Kooyman and Black Pearl Enterprises are not required to post a bond.

When the tournament organizers learned that Wann, the mate, did not possess a recreational saltwater fishing license until more than two hours after the marlin was caught, the Citation was disqualified from its winnings of $912,825 in the Blue Marlin Division and $318,750 in the Fabulous Fisherman’s Level.

 The disqualified 883-pound marlin would have set a tournament record for the largest blue marlin brought to the dock.

Because of this disqualification, which was announced on June 22, The Big Rock Board of Directors declared the second-place boat, Carnivore, the tournament winner with its 528.3 pound blue marlin, caught by angler John Parks.  The board awarded a $999,543 first prize to the Carnivore.

But the vessel’s owners assert in their claim that the Citation had “fulfilled all obligations to defendants in accordance with the tournament entry form and rules and is entitled to receive the full amount of both top prizes.”

The lawsuit, which claims that Big Rock’s refusal to award the prizes constitutes breach of contract,  does not specifically defend the Big Rock assertion that Wann was required to have the license before he started fishing, except to state that the Citation “had complied with all rules and regulations required by the tournament.”

Big Rock, on the other hand, claims there was no contract between the parties.

Andy Gay, the attorney representing the Citation’s owners, said that facts of the case are simple: The vessel was out of North Carolina’s jurisdiction when the fish was caught, and by the time it re-entered state waters, the mate had a valid saltwater recreational fishing license that he acquired online.

State waters extend only three miles out, Gay said. And whatever rule the tournament had about the license, he said, that didn’t apply anyway.

“It didn’t count on the way out, because the tournament didn’t start,” he said. “It doesn’t start until 9 o’clock in the morning. My clients are out in the Gulf Stream, waiting for the tournament to start in international waters.” 

Gay, with Zebulon firm Gay, Jackson & McNally, said that the blanket license the Citation possessed had expired at the end of April. Wann had assumed that the vessel’s license covered him until he double-checked online after the marlin was hooked.

That is also when the mate discovered that his own fishing license had expired.

“I looked at it, and I was like (expletive),” Wann was quoted on June 24 in The Washington Post.

But ultimately, Gay said, Wann had a valid license well before it was required during the tournament, and that’s all that’s relevant to the Citation qualifying for the prize money.

“From 9 o’clock until the end of that tournament, they violated no rules,” he said.

Gay said that a meeting is scheduled on Friday with attorneys and representatives from Big Rock and the Citation.  He said he is confident that the Big Rock folks have learned more about the situation, and potentially could decide in Citation’s favor.

“Their minds are not made up,” he said. “We believe that we have a good faith basis for them to reconsider.”   

(Catherine Kozak, a former reporter for The Virginian-Pilot in the Nags Head office, is now a freelance writer for The Island Free Press and other publications.)               

June 22, 2010

Hatteras-based Citation disqualified
in Big Rock; local captains criticize decision


The drama that has played out on fishing boards and social networking sites across the country for the past three days ended this evening when the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament Board of Directors disqualified the Hatteras-based boat that brought a record 883-pound fish to the dock on June 14, the tournament’s first day.

The Citation lost about $1.2 million in prize money because the board determined that a mate on the boat broke tournament rules because he did not get a $15 North Carolina recreation fishing license until after the marlin, the largest in the tournament’s 52-year history, was boated.

In a media release, the board said, “After interviewing members of the crew of the fishing vessel Citation, review of the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament rules, consulting the division of Marine Fisheries as well as the North Carolina Attorney General’s office, it is apparent that there has been a substantial violation of tournament rules.

“The Board of Directors has unanimously determined that they have no choice but to disqualify the 883-pound blue marlin caught on June 14, 2010,” the release said. “The rule violation did not involve ‘dishonesty’ or ‘cheating’ on the part of the owners or angler of the Citation.

Instead, the statement said that the violation involved the mate on Citation not having a recreational fishing license.

“This license is required by North Carolina law,” the board said. “It is required by the tournament as written in our rules. Participants and crew were reminded of the license requirement at the captains’ meeting prior to the tournament.”

According to the board, the mate, who has been identified in media reports as Peter Martin Wann, 22, of Alexandria, Va., “engaged in fishing activities without a valid license.”

According to the board, the record blue marlin was boated at 3:16 p.m., and the mate did not obtain a license until 5:51 p.m., while the boat was heading to the weigh station in Morehead City, N.C.

“This is an unfortunate situation for the crew of Citation, as well as the tournament itself,” the directors said. “For the integrity of the tournament, Big Rock has no choice but to enforce the rules and disqualify the fish.”

The mate was fined on Sunday by the state Division of Marine Fisheries after a discrepancy in his fishing license was uncovered in lie detector tests required of some people on the winning boat in the tournament, which had a total purse of $1.6 million in prize money.

The fine was $35 plus $125 in court costs.

But the owners of the boat, the captain Eric Holmes, and the angler Andy Thomasson have lost about $912,000 for the biggest blue marlin and a bonus prize of about $319,000.  The mate also usually shares in the prize money.

Because of this disqualification, The Big Rock Board of Directors declared Carnivore the tournament winner with its 528.3 pound blue marlin, caught by angler John Parks.  The boat won $999,543.  Second place then went to Wet-N-Wild with a 460-pound fish.  That boat won $275,322.

Several Hatteras captains who fished the tournament and are involved with writing and enforcing rules in other tournaments were unhappy with the decision.

“I am in total disagreement,” said Rom Whitaker, captain of the Release, which also fished the tournament and won a $7,000 prize for winning the daily division in the marlin release category.

“It is just terrible,” said Whitaker, who sits on the rules committee of the Hatteras Village Offshore Open and conducts captains’ meetings for that group. “It is absolutely ridiculous that they wrote that boy a ticket.”

Most observers say the fish was landed in federal waters, where Whitaker said the state has no jurisdiction.

“He caught the fish legally,” he said.

Whitaker noted that North Carolina requires that any fish landed in federal or state waters be brought to the dock by an angler and boat with the proper recreational fishing license.

When the mate landed the fish at the dock, Whitaker said, he had a valid license, no matter when it was acquired.

In the Hatteras village tournament, he noted, the fish would not have been disqualified “even if the mate had gotten his license two minutes before he got to the dock.”

Jay Kavanagh, captain of Bite Me who fished the Big Rock for the first time this year, agrees with Whitaker.

“The Big Rock has always been about as few rules as possible,” Kavanagh said.  “It’s all about putting the biggest fish on the dock.”

Kavanagh said he has studied the Big Rock rules, and he says he thinks they are “ambiguous” on the question of the state fishing license. But he assumes that since the requirement for the state license was mentioned at the captains’ committee, the directors felt obligated to enforce it.

Kavanagh helped write the rules and serves on the rules committee of the Hatteras Grand Slam Tournament.

“I do not consider this a violation of the rules,” he said.  He says the captain, the angler, the boat, and the mate “met the letter of the law” and that the Big Rock rules are” poorly written.”

“They just made a bad decision,” he said.

For the past three days on the Big Rock Facebook page, folks have weighed in on both sides of the issue – from the rules are the rules to the view that Kavanagh and Whitaker share that the mate had his license when he reached the dock and that should be that.

Speculation has been feverish over the past few days with many who weighed in on the boards saying the violation had to be about more than the lack of a $15 fishing license.

Turns out it was not.

For more information on the Big Rock and other winners, go to www.thebigrock.com.

June 21, 2010

Big Rock still has no winner -- with almost $1 million in first-prize money at stake


There is still no official winner in last week’s Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament.

Almost $1 million in prize money is riding on whether a mate on the Hatteras-based Citation, the boat that caught a record-breaking blue marlin that should have taken the top prize, had a  North Carolina recreational fishing license, which is required by both state and tournament rules.

About 5 p.m. this afternoon, the Big Rock Tournament board of directors issued a terse statement that it was “still in the process of investigating the alleged rule violation by the fishing vessel Citation with regards to the 883-pound marlin weighed in on June 14, 2010.”

 In the media release, the board said:

“The violation centers on whether the mate on the Citation had been timely issued a Coastal Recreational Fishing License as required by our Tournament as well as the State of North Carolina. We have been in contact with the Division of Marine Fisheries as well as the N.C. Attorney General's Office.

“We are exercising due diligence in this investigation, so to protect our participants, sponsors and charities.”

Angler Andy Thomasson of Richmond, Va., landed the fish on the Citation, which is privately owned and captained by Eric Holmes, after a three-hour battle on the first day of the tournament, Monday, June 14.  It is – or would be if declared the winner -- the largest in the 52-year history of the Big Rock.

However, the awards banquet on the last day, Saturday, June 19, was halted before the winner in the largest blue marlin category was announced.

The board issued a statement Sunday morning saying that it was investigating allegations of a violation of tournament rules.

Later, Sunday, the board issued another statement calling on fans of the Big Rock to refrain from commenting until a decision was made late today.

And late today came the decision that there was nothing decided yet.

The Big Rock is one of the largest tournaments on the East Coast.  This year 156 boats entered, and the purse was worth a total of $1.6 million.

According to the Big Rock website, the Citation stood to take in prize money of at least $912,000.

Meanwhile, other newspapers, such as the Jacksonville Daily News and the Carteret County News-Times, have reported that the angler who caught the fish and another co-owner of the boat said that they have been told they would not win.

The Jacksonville newspaper reported online:

 “We didn’t do anything wrong. But one of our people did. He failed to get a fishing license, but we didn’t know it. He told us he had it. He didn’t. So you take a man for his word, you know? I can’t do anything. They made their decision,” Thomasson said, referring to the Big Rock board of directors.

“They’re taking it away, everything. The fish is disqualified. We’re disqualified. So that’s the end of it. Yeah, wow. That hurts. To have done it like that…, to have somebody beat me because they caught (a bigger) fish is not so bad, but…,” he said, his voice trailing off without completing his thought.

A North Carolina Coastal Recreational Fishing License costs $15 annually for state residents 16 and older or $30 for nonresidents, according to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ website. A 10-day license can also be purchased for $5 for state residents 16 and older or $10 for nonresidents.

In an update today, the Jacksonville newspaper also quoted Michael Topp, a co-owner of the boat who has a vacation cottage in Frisco:

The lack of a license by a “for-hire mate” was discovered during a lie detector test Saturday night, said Michael Topp, one of the boat’s three owners. The tournament requires a lie detector test for the top money winners, including the captain, mate and angler as well as “others as deemed necessary.”

“Based on that, it appears that they are going to withhold all the winnings and disallow the catch of the fish,” Topp said. “It’s their tournament, their rules, their judgment. We, of course, feel that the action of the particular individual on an individual license should be dealt with on an individual license basis.

On the Big Rock’s Facebook page, folks have been arguing the fairness or unfairness of it all for two days as they have followed the unfolding drama.

Some say “the rules are the rules,” while others think the angler and the boat should not have to pay for the mistake of a mate, who has not been named in any published account. Some think the record should stand anyway.

Besides what the Citation stands to lose, there are at least two boats that stand to be big winners.

If the Citation is eventually disqualified, the top prize money in the biggest blue marlin category would go to the second-place boat, Carnivore, which brought a 528-pound fish to the dock.  The angler was John Parks of Jacksonville, N.C., and the captain is Ed Petrilli of Cape Carteret.

The third-place finisher also stands to move higher in the prize money.  That boat is Wet-N-Wild with angler Joseph Engleby and captain Tony Ross.

Not involved in the controversy are two Hatteras-based boats that finished in the money.

Sea Creature, captained by Steve Coulter, won for a 54.4-pound dolphin that took the dolphin “winner take all” category for $96,900, the weekly gamefish dolphin division for $6,077, and the daily gamefish category for $1,013. Total earnings for Sea Creature was right at $104,000.

In addition, Release, with Capt. Rom Whitaker, won first place in the daily release division on Saturday with a release of one white and one blue marlin for $7,732.80 in prize money.


To read the story in the Jacksonville Daily News, go to:

To read the story in the Carteret County News-Times, go to:

For more information on the Big Rock Tournament and the winners, go to http://www.thebigrock.com

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