Tournament officials disqualified a huge blue marlin caught by the crew of the Citation, owned by Andy Thomasson and Michael Topp, because the boat's mate, Peter Wann, did not have a valid North Carolina Coastal Recreational Fishing License when the boat left the dock that day or when the fish was caught, as tournament rules require. Wann purchased a license after the fish was caught and before the Citation weighed the fish, which was discovered during a routing polygraph examination before the award's banquet, causing the disqualification.
Because Judge Robert Hunter dissented, saying he thought disqualification was too severe because he did not think breaking the license rule gave the Citation crew an advantage, the case can be taken to the N.C. Supreme Court if Thomasson and Topp so desire. They filed a lawsuit after tournament officials disqualified their fish.
"We were glad to have won on appeal," said Casey Wagner, president of the tournament organization. "They still have another avenue of appeal to the N.C. Supreme Court, but we don't know if they are going to do that or not."
Thomasson and Topp stand to lose $910,062.50 in prize money that would have been awarded had the catch been allowed to stand. In addition, the 883-pound fish would have become the tournament record.
"It is the board's job to ensure that the playing field is always level," said Randy Ramsey, president of the Big Rock Board of Directors. "Consequently, we are willing to stand up and make those type choices if we have to. I don't think that any of us expected two years later to be talking about the same fish, but because it is the right decision, we are going to do whatever we have to to uphold the rules."
The decision not to pay the prize money was made in June 2010. The initial suit filed by Thomasson and Topp was heard in Superior Court in Beaufort on March 14, 2011, with the first appeal being heard in the N.C. Court of Appeals on Nov. 16, 2011, and now this second appeal being heard on June 5, 2012. Estimates are the next appeal, which would be final if ruled in favor of the tournament, will require another six months or more to be heard.
At this time there are no indications if Thomasson and Topp will continue their appeal. No comment was forthcoming on the advice of their lawyer, Andy Gay.
"I can't believe it is two years and this hasn't been settled," said Tony Ross, Captain of the Wet-N-Wild, who moved from third to second place with the disqualification. "We won in court, won on the first appeal, just won on this appeal and now we have to wait and see if the Citation owners are going to appeal again. I just want it to be over, but I want what is mine. Ed (Petrilli, owner of Carnivore who moved from second to first place) and I had to hire lawyers to get any of the money due us, and that just isn't right. At least we are getting closer to the end of any ways they can continue appealing this."
While Petrilli and Ross won the right to be paid their second and third place prize money, substantial prize money remains to be distributed. The prize for the first blue marlin brought to the scales weighing more than 500 pounds is $318,750 by itself. That appears to be destined to go to Petrilli unless the appeal is overturned. The balance of the prize money would be split 60/40 between Petrilli and Ross since there would no longer be a third-place finisher.
Unless the appeal is overturned, Petrilli and his crew are set to receive the largest prize in Big Rock history at $999,543. Ross and crew would be moved up to a total of $275,322.