June 3, 2011

Hatteras-based Citation ‘disinvited’ to Big Rock
Tournament, still appealing last year’s decision


The Hatteras-based charter boat that gained worldwide notoriety last year for being disqualified from more than $1 million in winnings thanks to a lapsed $15 fishing license, won’t be fishing in next week’s Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament.

Organizers apparently don’t want to risk more sticky publicity or making legal matters worse.

“The Citation has been asked not to participate in Big Rock by the board of directors,” Mike Topp, one of the vessel’s owners, said from Costa Rica.

Topp, a defense contractor who lives in Frisco, said that tournament officials sent a letter to his attorney, Andy Gay, about a month ago that made it clear that the Citation was “disinvited” to the June 10-18, 2011 event.  That, he said, effectively ended the matter.

“They didn’t ask my opinion,” he said.

Gay, with the Zebulon law firm of Gay, Jackson & McNally, said that the board’s reasoning was that the Citation would be “too much of a distraction” in the tournament. His clients, who include two other owners, say it is the tournament’s loss --- the boat would have paid about $10,000 to participate.

“So if they don’t want their money,” Gay said about his clients’ reaction, “so be it. It was more like kind of rubbing salt in their wounds to my clients.”

Instead, the Citation plans to participate in other area tournaments, Gay said, including Ocean City, Virginia Beach and Pirate’s Cove.

Big Rock tournament director Crystal Hesmere said that with legal action pending, the board did not want to diminish the event’s goals.

“We want to focus on having another great tournament and raising money for charity,” she said.

Captained by Eric Holmes of Buxton, the Citation’s crew hauled in a record-breaking 883-pound blue marlin last June on the first day of the 52nd annual Big Rock Tournament. 

The monster fish was the first blue marlin angler Andy Thomasson of Richmond had ever hooked, according to the Blue Rock’s website.

But about a week later, Big Rock officials disqualified the Citation, revoking its winnings of $912,825 in the Blue Marlin Division and $318,750 in the Fabulous Fishermen’s Level. 

Organizers said that the boat had broken tournament rules because its mate Peter Wann lacked a valid recreational saltwater fishing license until two hours after the fish was caught.

The board then declared the second-place boat, Carnivore, as the first place tournament winner.

A lawsuit challenging the board’s decision was dismissed in March, and Gay filed an appeal. His clients agreed to pay $100,000 bond to hold the prize money until the matter is decided. Gay said it could take about a year from filing for the case to be heard.

An appeal of Wann’s guilty verdict on the license violation is expected to be heard in Carteret County Superior Court this summer, Gay said.

Gay contends that, although Wann was late in getting his license, there was no violation of state law because when the marlin was caught, the vessel was in international waters. And by the time the vessel re-entered state waters, Wann had gotten his license online.

Big Rock organizers, however, argued that tournament rules required Wann to possess the license, no matter what jurisdiction in which the fish was caught.

The court’s ruling will have more to do with its willingness to get involved in what it may regard as tournament business, Gay said, rather than whether the law was broken.

“I don’t think that there is any question that legally,” he said, “we are right.”

You can follow the tournament at www.thebigrock.com.

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