Holy mackerel: N.J. anglers to reel in $2.8M for tuna catch

Three New Jersey anglers will nab almost $2.8 million for a tuna they caught in a disputed fishing tournament that took place almost a year ago and generated hundreds of pages of court filings and multiple polygraph tests.

That’s about $11,806 per pound for the 236.5-pound bigeye tuna caught by Trenton firefighter Rich Kosztyu in the White Marlin Open, held last August off Ocean City, Md.

The settlement, filed June 30, hasn’t been signed yet by the U.S. District Court judge in Maryland, but no one involved in the case expects a problem.

“We’re definitely happy to put this behind us,” said Brian Suschke, a Trenton police sergeant and part of the winning team with Kosztyu. “It’s been 11 months and a lot of anxiety, but we’re satisfied with the agreement. We’re ready to fish again this year.”

At issue was the top prize in the tournament in which Kosztyu landed the tuna. He entered the tournament with Suschke and boat owner Damien Romeo. The tuna took tops in its category with $767,091 in prize money.

Philip Heasley of Florida earned the tournament’s overall top prize of $2.8 million for a white marlin he landed. But there were questions about whether Heasley and his crew had begun fishing before the official start time. A polygraph test cast further doubt.

Heasley was disqualified and the matter ended up in court. A federal judge ruled Heasley was not entitled to the prize money.

So White Marlin Open officials agreed Heasley’s $2.8 million would be split among other winning anglers.

The New Jersey group was entitled to the largest piece of that — just over $2 million — under the tournament rules. That, added to their original winnings, comes to $2,792,147.

“We’re very pleased with the result,” said Joseph Moore, an Ocean City, Md., attorney representing the White Marlin Open tournament.

Moore said it was important that the case preserved the integrity of the tournament.

Suschke said his group of winners plans to compete in the White Marlin Open tournament again next month.

“We’ll go in with a positive attitude,” he said. “We’re just happy to move on. … We’re pretty serious tournament fishermen, but we’re not paid fishermen. We just do it for the love of fishing.”

So, what happened to the tuna that’s responsible for it all?

The trio gave it to the owner of a seafood restaurant and fish market in Maryland. The owner had allowed the crew to dock their boat, Hubris, there free during the first day of the tournament after it struck a piling and needed repairs.

So, after they won, they felt obligated to pay back the debt.

No hubris here.