Tourney Drama Raises Local Fishing Questions

OCEAN CITY – After a Virginia angler and crew lost over $1
million over the lack of a $30 North Carolina fishing license during the Big
Rock Blue Marlin tournament in mid-June, questions have been raised about the
need for the proper permits and licenses for anglers as Ocean City rolls into
the height of its summer offshore tournament season.

On June 14, angler Andy Thomasson and the crew aboard the
Virginia-based “Citation” landed an 883-pound blue marlin on the first day of
the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in Morehead City, N.C. and the record fish,
the largest blue marlin caught in the tournament’s 52-year history, held on all
week for first place and an apparent check for $1.2 million. However, before
the crew on the “Citation” was awarded its $1.2 million prize, it became
evident a 22-year-old college student on board, who did not catch the fish,
drive the boat or even handle the tackle, did not have a current North Carolina
fishing license and the record blue was disqualified.

According to reports, when the record blue was boated the
individual realized he had a North Carolina permit at one time, but didn’t know
its status. When the “Citation” got within wireless range, he checked the
status of his license online and found it had indeed expired. He quickly
re-registered, about two hours after the big blue had been boated, but the
damage had been done. The “Citation” was disqualified and the tournament’s top
prize went to the crew on the “Carnivore” for its second-place 528-pound blue

The remarkable fish tale spread quickly through the
fishing community up and down the east coast including Ocean City, where the
resort area is on the cusp of another big tournament season, including next
week’s Ocean City Tuna Tournament and the White Marlin Open in the first week
of August. In the interest of avoiding any similar controversy during next
month’s White Marlin Open (WMO), tournament founder and director Jim Motsko
last week began looking into the state and federal permit and license
requirements for anglers participating in the WMO.

“I just want to make sure we know exactly what permits and
registrations are required by the state and the federal government before we
have a situation unfold like we saw with the Big Rock,” said Motsko this week.
“I don’t want anybody to come up on the last day of the tournament and call
into question the paperwork of one of the anglers or even a participant riding
along on one of the boats.”

First and foremost, beginning on Jan. 1 of this year,
every saltwater angler in Maryland was required to register with the federal
National Saltwater Angler Registry, a initiative started this year by the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to better track catch data
used to determine fisheries regulations. Absent a statewide fishing license in
Maryland, NOAA started the National Saltwater Angler Registry (NSAR) this year
and all anglers fishing on the coastal side of the state are required to register
before fishing with certain exceptions.

For example, holders of a federal Highly Migratory Species
(HMS) permit, which includes just about every captain, mate and angler who
regularly fishes for marlin, tuna, dolphin, shark and other species off the coast,
are not required to register with the NSAR. However, occasional anglers who do
not hold an HMS permits are required to register.

“There is currently no license required for fishing the
coast of Maryland, but beginning this year, anglers are required to register
with the National Registry,” said Joe Evans of the Maryland Department of
Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Service. “It was started this year to allow
federal fisheries management agencies to better track catch data so they can
make better decisions about season closures and quotas. It was something the
anglers wanted because it creates a better data collection system. Before, they
had no idea who was fishing and what they were catching, so all of the activity
out in the ocean was sort of off the radar.”

Evans said signing up for the NSAR is free and takes just
minutes on-line or over the phone.

“It’s so easy and it’s free, so anybody thinking about
participating in these tournaments, even if they have any doubt about the
requirements, should go ahead and register,” said Evans. “It could prevent a
situation similar to what happened in the Big Rock.”

While Maryland does not require a license to fish on the
coastal side of the state, it does require a saltwater fishing license in the
Chesapeake. Next year, the state is expected to consolidate the permit to
include all of coastal Maryland. In the meantime, there are certain permits and
registrations required to fish off the coast of the resort that need to be
adhered to in order to compete in many of the summer tournaments in the area.

First of all, NOAA requires boats and anglers fishing for
tuna, dolphin, marlin and other game fish to hold a Highly Migratory Species
(HMS) permit. Licensed charter boats must hold an HMS permit, as well as the
captain, mates and any anglers fishing aboard them. The boat’s HMS permit does
not cover everyone on board and each individual on the boat, including the
captain, mates and any anglers must have individual HMS permits.

Licensed charter boats, captains, mates and regular
anglers hold HMS permits, which supercede registration on the National
Saltwater Angler Registry, but it gets a little trickier with private boats.
According to Motsko, private boats often make up at least 50 percent or more of
the vessels competing in the WMO. While private boats themselves, along with
the captain and the mates, routinely hold HMS permits, anglers, visitors and
“weekend warriors” typically don’t, but if they are participating in one of the
big tournaments such as the WMO, they will need to be get an HMS permit, or
simply register with the National Saltwater Angler Registry, the latter which
can be done the day of or even an hour before participating.

“It’s a little complicated, but the simplest thing to do
is register with the National Saltwater Angler Registry if there is any
question whatsoever,” said Motsko. “The HMS permits follow the individual and
not the boats, so even if a private boat hold an HMS permit, all of the anglers
on board are not covered.”