2016 White Marlin Open Ruling – $3 Million Dollar Tuna?

2016 White Marlin Open Ruling – $3 Million Dollar Tuna?

By Scott Lenox

Scott Lenox
Scott is the owner of Fish in OC and host of Ocean City's fishing television show Hooked on OC. He has worked in the fishing industry and fished the waters in and around Ocean City for over 25 years.

A federal judge today ruled against the winner of 2016’s White Marlin Open and he will not receive the $2.8 Milion prize. The ball started rolling last August when Phil Heasley caught the only qualifying white marlin in the 2016 White Marlin Open aboard his Kallianassa and was looking to cash the largest payout for a single fish in any fishing tournament in history. Heasley’s 76.5 pound white marlin was worth $2.8 Million, but when tournament officials became suspicious with discrepancies on his catch report a red flag was sent up. The original time on the catch report was scratched out and a new one was written in raising suspicion with officials to when the fish was caught and whether or not Kallianassa began fishing before the official lines in time of 8:30 AM on Tuesday, August 9, 2016.The White Marlin Open officially disqualified Heasley’s fish when he and his crew failed to pass their required polygraph tests that included questions about lines in, the time the fish was caught and if Heasley received any help in landing the fish.


After learning of his disqualification Heasley sued White Marlin Open for his prize and the case was recently heard in federal court in Baltimore. Lawyers for both sides plead their cases that focused on the reliability of the polygraph tests and the the credibility of Heasley and his crew. In the end Judge Richard Bennett ruled that Heasley and his crew did violate rules of the tournament by putting lines in before 8:30 AM on the day that they caught the 76.5 pound white marlin. The judge also ruled that White Marlin Open was just in disqualifying Heasley and his crew by correctly applying the rules of the tournament including the administration of polygraph tests.

Here is a statement from the White Marlin Open Website:

“Throughout the case, the intention of the White Marlin Open directors has been to protect the integrity of the tournament and to ensure that the rules are applied fairly for all participants. The White Marlin Open, like many other tournaments, has found that the use of polygraphs is an effective method of ensuring compliance with the rules. The White Marlin Open is pleased that its reputation for integrity, built over its forty-three-year history, has been upheld.”

“As the 2017 tournament approaches, the tournament directors are determined to continue the fair and impartial application of the tournament rules so that all participants have confidence in the results of the tournament. The tournament directors are committed to maintaining the tournament as an open and enjoyable experience for all anglers, whether professional or amateur, who participate in this world recognized event.”

Today’s decision was only one to say whether Heasley would receive the $2.8 Million prize money. A judge will determine the distribution of the $2.8 Million at a later date and hopefully that will follow guidelines that are already written in the White Marlin Open rules. If the White Marlin Open rules are followed for prize distribution the prize money would be distributed to several other winners in the 2016 tournament. A dozen other anglers are set to receive thousands of dollars, but no one is more excited than Rich Kosztyu who caught the winning tuna in the 2016 White Marlin Open. Kosztyu’s 236.5 pound bigeye tuna was already worth over $776,000 and because of added entry levels and no qualifying white marlin, his fish could now be worth over $3 Million. We’ll have to wait just a little longer to find out.


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