N.C. Blue Marlin Case Earns New Trial

OCEAN CITY- In a story followed closely by the sportfishing community in Ocean City, the North Carolina Supreme Court last week ruled the case involving the winner of the 2010 Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament being disqualified and losing nearly $1 million in prize money over the lack of a $15 fishing license should be heard again in court and not decided on by a judge.

In June 2010, 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 just under $1 million. However, before the crew on the “Citation” was awarded its prize, it became evident a 22-year-old mate on board did not have the requisite North Carolina fishing license required by the tournament rules and the record blue was disqualified.

When the record blue marlin was boated, the mate in question realized he had the North Carolina permit at one time, but did not know its status. When the “Citation” got within wireless range about two hours from port, the mate checked the status of his license on-line and determined it had indeed expired. The mate re-registered while still at sea, 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 marlin.

The “Citation” crew eventually challenged the disqualification and the stripping of nearly $1 million in prize money. A North Carolina Superior Court judge last year upheld the disqualification of the “Citation” and ruled in favor of the “Carnivore,” which was awarded nearly $1 million in prize money including the first- and second-place blue marlin award.

However, the “Citation” challenged the lower court judge’s ruling and earned a hearing before the state’s Supreme Court. Last week, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled the case should be heard at trial and not resolved by the lower court judge.

Among other things, the Supreme Court determined the Superior Court judge who issued the ruling should have recused himself, pointing out the judge is the law partner of the attorney representing the second-place boat “Carnivore” and often vacation together.

The mate whose lack of a license triggered the disqualification testified he was under the assumption there was a blanket license covering the entire boat and crew on the “Citation,” which is why he wasn’t concerned about the status of his personal license. Meanwhile, Big Rock organizers testified the licensing requirements were carefully spelled out in a pre-tournament meeting, which the captain and crew on the “Citation” did not attend.