Controversy follows Cayman billfish tournament

A protest and controversy have marred the first Cayman Billfish Rundown, with local fisherman Nathan Day saying he plans to take the tournament organisation to court.

Day said his boat, Happy Days, was robbed of the first-place title in the tournament when the captain of Uno Mas, a well-known tournament boat out of Florida filed a protest and the tournament’s judges disqualified one of the marlin releases Happy Days had reported.

The move was particularly upsetting, Day said, because a question about the release earlier in the tournament had been addressed and officials had accepted it as valid. But, when faced with the protest, the tournament judges, who were not involved in the initial decision, analysed video taken by the Happy Days crew and determined it did not constitute a valid release.

In tournament fishing, fish under a certain size are released rather than brought in for weighing. Points are still given to boats that catch and then release a fish, if they meet certain specified rules.

In this case, the tournament rules stated, “A billfish will be considered released when the swivel touches the rod tip, when the mate grabs the leader material, or when the leader goes through the rod tip.”

The judges ruled the release in question did not meet any of those specifications.

That decision bumped Happy Days from first to second place and cost Day and his crew at least $75,000, Day said.

Day said he has consulted with an attorney about suing the tournament.

In a witness statement that his attorney asked him to produce, Day laid out the sequence of events regarding the questioned release. The first two days of the Cayman Billfish Rundown were on 14-15 May. On 16 May, a rest day, Day said he was informed the blue marlin his crew released on the second day of fishing had been disqualified. He talked to tournament director Randy Merren on the phone to argue his case.

“It took a long time to persuade Randy Merren that he had missed something and that his ruling was incorrect,” Day wrote in his statement. “He finally requested that Nathan Day meet with him.”

Merren asked to see the tackle and line used to catch the fish, Day said, and eventually changed his mind about the disqualification. The tournament committee decided to accept the release, Day said.

On the final day of the tournament, when Uno Mas lodged its protest, Day said he was told that an International Game Fishing Association official would have to review the evidence, which would likely take a few days. But a short time later, he said, Uno Mas was named the tournament winner.

“I have since been requesting an explanation as to who and why this decision was made and why we as the affected team were not informed, especially as we were told that it was going to get referred to the IGFA and would take a few days to get an answer,” he wrote. “I still have had no word from the tournament director or anybody at the CBR and have therefore filed notice to them of taking legal advice on this matter. I believe this is a complete injustice and demand an explanation and evidence as to why the decision was reversed.”

Merren responded to a request for comment with an email that contained statements on both the Uno Mas protest and a subsequent protest by Happy Days.

“The [Happy Days] video provided to the CBR was of such poor quality that after further review, the judges were not able to conclusively confirm any of the IGFA requirements for an official release,” the first statement said.

Merren said the tournament would have no other comment on the matter.

Day said he is hoping the IGFA may provide some help. He has sent the organisation his videos and other materials related to the matter and said he will wait to hear from it before taking further action.

The Compass contacted an official connected with several international billfish tournaments in an attempt to get a third-party opinion on the case. The official requested anonymity due to the potential of future legal action.

After viewing the videos provided by Happy Days, and consulting with colleagues, the official said the images were inconclusive.

“There’s not enough evidence to make a decision, at least not enough to turn a decision over,” the official said.

“I think here,” Day said, “the point is the tournament officials OK’d [the release] and only at the 11th hour, they disqualified it. After they told me the prizes wouldn’t be awarded until there was an independent assessment,” he added, the prizes were awarded anyway.

“That’s the only reason I have sent this off [to the IGFA] for independent verification,” he said.

In his seven years in Cayman, Day said he has fished many tournaments, but has never before run into problems.

“I do all the tournaments,” he said. “I might not do any more after this one.”

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