A fishing crew lost out on over $3 million in tournament prize money after the 619.4-pound blue marlin they caught was disqualified due to “mutilation” caused by a shark or other marine animal, according to a statement from the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament.
The crew of Sensation caught the massive marlin as part of the weeklong fishing tournament based in Morehead City, North Carolina. The marlin gave the crew a six-plus hour fight, according to the tournament website, before they boated the beast on Saturday night.
The tournament live-streamed the boat’s return to shore, and crowds cheered as the marlin was hoisted into the air and weighed.
But a problem quickly became clear.
“OK guys, let’s talk about the rules here for a second,” said Tommy Bennett, a Big Rock board member and the host of the livestream. “It would appear that this fish has been bitten by a shark.”
Indeed, a photo of the happy crew and the hanging marlin shows the marlin had visible wounds on its underside and near its tail.
By Sunday, the tournament announced it had consulted with experts and the Sensation’s blue marlin was disqualified.
“After careful deliberation and discussions between the Big Rock Rules Committee and Board of Directors with biologists from both NC State CMAST and NC Marine Fisheries biologists as well as an (International Game Fish Association) official, it was determined that SENSATION’S 619.4-lb Blue Marlin is disqualified due to mutilation caused by a shark or other marine animal. It was deemed that the fish was mutilated before it was landed or boated and therefore it was disqualified,” the tournament said.
“This decision is consistent with prior decisions made by the tournament in similar circumstances over the last 65 years,” the tournament added.
Sensation would have won $3.5 million for the catch, including over $700,000 for the first boat to catch a marlin weighing over 500 pounds.
Instead, the crew of Sushi, which brought in a 484.5-pound blue marlin, won first place in the tournament – as well as prize money totaling $2,769,438.
Still, Sensation Capt. Greg McCoy believes his vessel won the tournament fair and square, he told CNN on Tuesday.
“We worked hard, we felt like what we did was incredible with this fish, we knew we had won the tournament,” he said. “I knew that fish was gonna destroy the other fish on the leaderboard weight-wise, and that’s exactly what it did. We followed all the rules. There was nothing nefarious or cheating or anything like that on our part.”
“We feel like it was taken away from us,” he added.
He said he believed the tournament was arbitrarily applying the rules differently from year to year.
“The tournament is about catching the biggest fish. We caught the biggest fish. I’m not a sour grapes person. I’m not a sore loser. We won the tournament. We caught the biggest fish,” he said. “As they say, put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
The blue marlin, known for its spear-like bill, can grow to be 14 feet long and weigh 2,000 pounds. The Big Rock tournament record was set in 2019 when the crew of Top Dog hauled in a marlin weighing 914 pounds. A total of 271 boats participated in this year’s tournament.
The competitive fishing world was rocked last year when the winning fish in an Ohio tournament were found to be stuffed with lead weights and fish fillets. The fishermen, who were exposed as cheaters on camera, were disqualified from nearly $29,000 in prize money and later pleaded guilty to criminal charges.