Judge John E. Nobles Jr. signed the ruling on March 10, ending an attempt by the owners of the sportfisher Citation to challenge their ruling of the tournament committee that took away the first prize of more than $900,000.
But the boats that originally finished second and third and were moved up a spot when Citation was disqualified may have to wait a while longer to receive their full prize-money awards, because the attorney representing the Citation's owners has indicated he will appeal the million-dollar ruling.
Big Rock tournament rules require everyone on a competing boat to have a North Carolina saltwater fishing license, and the tournament disqualified Citation's winning catch, an 883-pound blue marlin - the tournament record - and withheld first-prize money of $987,700 when it learned that a member of Citation's crew did not have a license until he purchased it on the internet several hours after the huge billfish was landed. The crew member received a citation from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries' enforcement division and was found guilty last November.
According to a report in the Carteret County News-Times, the court declared that Citation had violated tournament rules and was property disqualified. The court also declared that the Carnivore, captained by Ed Petrelli of Cape Carteret, was entitled to the first-place winnings, and the Wet-N-Wild, captained by Tony Ross of Beaufort, should receive the second-place purse.
Because there was no fourth-place finisher to move up when Citation was disqualified, the third-place money was to be split between Carnivore and Wet-N-Wild, which have already received the second- and third-place prize money, but the difference in prize money between first and second and second and third was withheld pending results of the lawsuit.
If the court order stands, the decision will mean a $762,787.50 difference in prize money for Petrilli and the Carnivore crew and $141,275 for Ross and the Wet-N-Wild crew.
The News-Times reported on March 18 that the attorney for Citation's owners said the decision would be appealed. The attorney, Andy Gay of Zebulon, said his clients would post a $100,000 bond to protect the final distribution of the first-place prize money.
Ross told North Carolina Sportsman that the appeal was filed on Monday and the $100,000 bond posted that afternoon. It will be held by the court and will pay 8-percent interest on the difference in prize money to Carnivore and Wet-n-Wild for the length of the appeal. He also said that before Citation's appeal, he and Petrilli had to resort to legal action to have second- and third-place prize money paid as Citation's suit attempted to block distribution of all prize money in the blue marlin categories.
"I am happy to hear this judge's decision, but until this is over and the money has been awarded, it is a hollow victory. We haven't even received our trophies yet," Ross said. "What's right is right. The rules are the rules. We have gone to court three times on separate issues and (Citation's owners) have lost all three times.
"We did nothing wrong, but we still have had to hire an attorney as they listed our boats in their suit. Everything has been spoiled now because of this. The Citation people said it was not about the money, but they told us they would go away if (Petrelli and I) gave them some money. We were willing to give them a little money to avoid the delay and legal fees, but they wanted us to give them 85 percent of the winning prize money. They keep saying it isn't about money, but have asked us twice for money to go away.' Had they not been disqualified, the Citation's crew was in position to win $318,750 for catching the first blue marlin heavier than 500 pounds and $912,825 for winning the tournament. The total tournament purse was $1.66 million.