$15 mistake may cost anglers $1 million

By Grant Olsen | Posted - Jan 31st, 2013 @ 9:23am

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A battle is playing out in North Carolina courts that could net $1 million for a crew of fishermen. The case is full of intrigue and has taken several unexpected turns. It's the story of a monster marlin, a $15 mistake, $1 million prize, and the 2 1/2-year court battle involving the Citation crew.

In June of 2010, the Citation was among the many fishing boats taking part in the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament — one of the country’s richest deep-sea fishing tournaments. On the first day, they hooked into an 883-pound, 14-foot-long blue marlin. The fishermen battled the beast for four hours before boating it.

To catch a fish this big ... We got lucky and it's good to be lucky.

–Eric Holmes, Citation captain

"When we finally saw it we couldn't believe it," the Citation's captain, Eric Holmes, told reporters back at the dock. "To catch a fish this big ... We got lucky and it's good to be lucky."

The Citation’s 883-pound marlin was the biggest ever caught in the tournament’s 52-year history. Because it was the tournament’s first blue marlin to weigh more than 500 pounds, the Citation’s crew earned $318,750 in prize money. Of course, they were more interested in the overall tournament prize. If no other boats caught a bigger blue marlin during the six-day tournament, the crew of the Citation would take home $912,825 in cash.

Over the next few days, anglers from two other boats — the Carnivore and Wet-N-Wild — brought in large marlin, but nothing that surpassed the Citation’s 883-pounder. At the conclusion of the tournament, it appeared that the Citation’s crew had earned a fortune.

But then tournament officials dropped a bombshell — the crew of the Citation had been disqualified from the tournament. They wouldn’t receive a dime in prize money.

The decision immediately caused an uproar, but as details began to emerge, many anglers sided with the tournament officials’ decision. It turned out that the Citation’s first mate, 22-year-old Peter Wann, didn’t have a North Carolina fishing license at the time the marlin was caught. Tournament rules clearly state that all crewmembers must possess one of the $15 licenses.

Captain Holmes countered that it was an innocent mistake; Wann had believed the Citation had a blanket license that covered everyone onboard. Both Holmes and Wann had missed a crucial pre-tournament meeting where officials reiterated the licensing rule to all the participants. Holmes explained that his crew realized the license problem shortly after landing their monster marlin, and used an onboard computer with Internet connection to purchase the necessary licenses for Wann. The new license was purchased at 5:51 PM on June 14, more than seven hours after the marlin had been caught.

Tournament officials stood firm. It appeared that Wann’s $15 mistake had cost his crewmates the tournament record and the million-dollar prize. The crew of the Carnivore was informed that their 528-pound marlin was the new tournament winner.

Of course, with $1 million on the line, you can’t expect the story to end there. Captain Holmes and his crew filed suit against the tournament, claiming breach of contract. Superior Court Judge John Nobles Jr. ruled against the Citation’s crew, but not before it emerged that Judge Nobles was a close friend and former law partner of the attorney representing the Carnivore’s crew. In fact, the judge had even vacationed with the attorney while the lawsuit was underway.

The Citation’s legal team claimed this friendship had biased Judge Nobles and that he had unfairly sided with tournament officials and the crew of the Carnivore. The Carnivore’s attorneys countered that there was no evidence of prejudice in the case.

In March 2011, Judge Nobles ruled in favor of the tournament officials. The crew of the Citation appealed the decision. An appellate judge then ruled in favor of the Citation’s crew, asserting that Wann’s rule violation hadn’t given the Citation a competitive edge and didn’t warrant disqualification.

The tug-of-war has continued, with the case making its way to the North Carolina Supreme Court. Anglers and supporters on both sides of the case are anxiously awaiting a ruling on the matter.

So what’s your verdict? Should the crew of the Citation get the prize money, even though they violated a tournament rule?

Grant Olsen joined the ksl.com team in 2012. He covers travel, outdoor adventures, and other interesting things. Contact him at grant@thegatsbys.com.


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