The crew of the Citation appear next to their 883-pound blue marlin.
The crew of the Citation appear next to their 883-pound blue marlin.

Nearly three years ago, the crew of the Citation fought the battle of lifetime as they held onto an 883-pound marlin that would eventually become the largest fish recorded caught during the annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament. On June 14, 2010, the anglers on the Citation fought the large marlin for over three hours before being able to bring it on-board, at which point cheers rung out when the crew realized they could very well have snagged a combined prize purse of $915,825.

Celebration quickly turned to concern however, as it was discovered that one of the crew members did not have the necessary recreational fishing license for the state of North Carolina. Peter Wann, 22, had mistakenly believed that a blanket fishing license would be in effect for all crew members on the Citation. Tournament rules specifically required all participants to have their own valid fishing license, as well as a highly-migratory species fishing permit.

Wann hastily used the ship’s laptop to purchase the required licenses online, but by that time it was already too late. Tournament officials interviewed the crew of the Citation–reportedly with the aid of a polygraph test–and decided that because of the violation, the 883-pound marlin did not qualify for entry to the competition. Instead, the prize money was awarded to the crew of Carnivore with a previously second-place 528-pound marlin.

The Citation crew, which included Wann, Captain Eric Holmes, Michael Topp, Duncan Thomasson, and Martin Kooyman, later filed suit against the tournament for breach of contract. Lawyers representing the anglers argued that because the license was purchased before the ship re-entered North Carolina waters, the crew should not have been disqualified. The case initially went to the Superior Court in Beaufort in 2011, where the judge ruled in favor of the Big Rock Tournament. According to Star News, that decision was then appealed, and although the majority of appellate court judges determined the crew had not provided significant evidence to overturn the previous ruling, one judge in their favor was all that was needed to send the case to the state’s Supreme Court.

Appeals Court Judge Robert C. Hunter believed that the lack of a recreational fishing license did not provide the Citation with a competitive edge or was a significant violation of the tournament rules. Sure enough, the case was taken to the North Carolina’s highest court earlier this year. According to a report by the North Carolina Sportsman, the state Supreme Court agreed with Hunter, and sent the case back to the Superior Court under a different judge.

The crew of Carnivore and current runner-upper Wet-N-Wild however, were not pleased with the ongoing legal battles. Some of the prize money had been dispersed, but the lion’s share still awaited the final outcome of the case. The owners of both ships were also named in the suit to block them from receiving the prize money until a decision was reached.

Shortly before a trial date was to be proposed, the case was suddenly settled out-of-court.

“The parties involved in the Big Rock lawsuit have reached a mutually satisfactory resolution of all matters in dispute between them,” read a statement by the tournament’s attorneys. “Had the 883-pound fish caught by the vessel Citation not been disqualified, it would have been the largest fish weighed in the history of the Big Rock tournament. The parties are pleased that they were able to resolve their differences honorably and amicably. By agreement, the parties will have no further comment on the matter.”

Details of the settlement, including the final distribution of the prize money as well as the official winners of the 2010 tournament, have not been disclosed. Still, it must be a relief for all parties to have the matter settled, and begin looking forward to the high seas rather than a courtroom.

You can read OutdoorHub’s original coverage of the case here.

Image courtesy Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament

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12 thoughts on “Million-dollar Marlin Case Settled after Three Years of Legal Battles

  1. So, by NOT obeying the rules of a tournament those same rules can be ignored or altered because someone complains? No wonder the country is so screwed up! Rules are rules. Don’t like em’ change them BEFORE the contest, not after.

    1. Perhaps you should read the entire article. The rules were not “ignored.” Wann “mistakingly believed” that the crew had a blanket license, which is normal, but that for the tournament, he was told to late, that “each member” of the crew must have their “own individual licenses.” Yes, that should have been checked before the boat sailed, BY THE TOURNAMENT OFFICIALS! I would blame them, first of all.

      1. So, based on that argument, ignorance should get you out of any legal matter. I didn’t know it was illegal to go 95 MPH here, so you should just give me a warning and I’ll obey the next time. Personal responsibility of the crew is the bottom line here. Yes, the tournament officials should have verified the crew’s license, but the crew should have known what the requirements were when they entered. I put that on the captain of the boat. With this kind of prize money on the line, you would want all your ducks in a row., wouldn’t you?

      2. Do you have any idea how stupid of an argument that is Michael? No really, don’t compare apples to oranges. What you are saying is like them saying “I didn’t know you couldn’t put lead weights inside of the fish to make it seem bigger!” -_-

      3. Mr. Wann apparently didn’t read the rules Mr Horneff there by ignoring them. Told too late ….what they threw a flier at him as they pulled away from the dock ? And should the department of motor vehicles check your drivers license before you get behind the wheel…the game and fish check your hunting license before you step into the woods..really now….mistakenly believed ? The rest of the boat knew the rules and IMO it was his captains responsibility to check his license.

      4. This article has the story distorted a good deal. The rules did not require everyone on board to have their “own, individual licenses”. It required that everyone be covered by a valid license. A blanket license would have sufficed, covering everyone. However, Citation was converted from charter to private prior to the tournament and no longer carried the blanket license.

        That was where the mate’s “misunderstanding” came from. It wasn’t that he didn’t know the rules or was ignoring them. He erroneously thought the boat had the blanket license like 99.9% of the other sportfishing boats in Hatteras. It was an easy mistake to make when you’re used to being a charter mate.

        I’ve been doing it for nearly 20 years and in both charters and tournaments I have never needed my own fishing license. Those boats always have blanket licenses, or so the thought went before this episode. I would have probably made the same mistake.

        But I’m with you, Don and MT, the Capt. should have been on the stick ahead of time rather than trying to make sure everything was in order after the fish was caught. (Sorry, Eric, but I call ’em like I see ’em.)

  2. Rules are stupid in situations like this. The fish was obviously the biggest ever. What’s not to understand? We are ruled to death.

  3. “Tournament rules specifically required all participants to have their
    own valid fishing license, as well as a highly-migratory species fishing
    permit.”

    That’s not quite correct. The rule stated that all NC Fishing Regulations must be followed as to limits, licenses, etc. The rules did not specifically say everyone must have their own fishing license as this article and most others have stated. A blanket charter boat license to cover anyone on the boat would have been sufficient. The problem arose because the Citation had been converted from a charter boat to a private boat the year before and no longer carried the blanket license.

    Furthermore, it was the non-specific language of the rule that resulted in the matter being taken to court. The rule didn’t say everyone on board must have a valid license when the fish is caught. It said everyone must be licensed in accordance with NC law. Since the fish was caught beyond the state waters’ boundary, no law was broken. Beyond 5 miles out, a state has no jurisdiction and only federal regulations apply (HMS Permit). A violation of law would not have occurred until the fish was brought into state waters, by which time the mate had a license and everything was legal.

    The spirit of the rule was that everyone abide by state/federal laws and regulations. Citation followed in that spirit, violated no laws or regulations, and was being punished because some tournament official wanted to nit pick. In fact, you could argue they followed the rule to the letter since everything was in accordance with NC law. I’d almost be willing to bet that official was the record holder or is friends with the holder of the tournament record that was going to be broken.

    But at any rate, it’s not nearly as cut and dry as most of the articles out there try to make it. Had the rule simply stated that everyone must have a license while participating in the tournament and not included the in accordance with state law part, there would have been no argument.

    By the way, a HMS Permit is issued to a boat, not to individuals as the article implies.

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