Biggest Tournament Fishing Scandal Ever Will Be Decided This Week With $2.8 Million On The Line
This week a federal judge will make a ruling in the largest tournament fishing scandal in history. It all began last August at the 2016 White Marlin Open in Ocean City, Maryland. That fishing tournament had the largest purse in the history of the sport, and $2.8 MILLION went to Captain Phillip Heasley of Naples, Florida. We also now know the specific rules violations the winners were accused of (below).
I wrote about this scandal last Summer as it unfolded. Initially, Captain Phillip Heasley (aboard the Kallianassa fishing vessel) was awarded the $2.8 million for largest fish of the tournament AND largest White Marlin caught, the hardest species to land amongst the eligible fish. However, just as quickly as the tournament declared a winner things began to go south. There were accusations of cheating which led to polygraph tests for all three men onboard the winning boat, and they failed those polygraph tests. The question each member of the crew failed was regarding whether or not anyone helped Phillip Heasley catch the fish. Tournament rules dictate that only one man/angler can handle the fishing rod while reeling in a fish during the tournament.
After they failed the polygraph tests they pushed for the case to be handed over to the courts, and from there it was passed to a federal judge. With Nearly three million dollars on the line, this has been taken VERY seriously. The judge heard testimonies over the course of last week, and now has until Wednesday of this week to make a ruling.
So which rule was allegedly broken that might cause the Florida fishermen to forfeit $2.8 million in winnings that would then pass to a fishing crew from New Jersey? The prosecution argues that the crew began fishing too early. Tournament rules dictated that lines couldn’t enter the water until 8:30 a.m. and the official catch report filed by Phillip Heasley’s fishing team lists that the white marlin was caught at 9:05 a.m. But, someone allegedly erased 8:15 am and rewrote 9:05 am on the card. However, Heasley argues that the fish was caught at 9:15 am, and it was a tournament official entering the data who made the mistake and not anyone on his crew, thus denying any wrongdoing.
Lawyers for Phillip Heasley and the rest of the Kallianassa fishing crew used GPS data from the boat to argue that they did not begin fishing until 8:30 am, which could actually be a pretty convincing argument if you get the right jury and it’s explained correctly. However, if the judge chooses to rule against Heasley and the Kallianassa Fishing Team then $2.3 million will be awarded to New Jersey-based Lacey boat captain Damien Romeo who caught a 260-pound hammerhead shark, and the additional $500,000 will be split up amongst other fishing category winners.
To see additional photographs of the fish caught at the 2016 White Marlin Open in Ocean City you can just follow that link! And I’ll be sure to follow up here later this week when the federal judge makes a ruling on this dispute.