Once again the EMC was helping to bring science to the famous Big Rock Marlin Tournament in Morehead City. Two teams of investigators assembled at the docks each day to collect valuable information and samples from the marlin, tuna and mahi caught by the tournament fisherment. One group led by Dr. Jeff Buckle and Paul Ruderhausen is looking at the stomach contents of the fishes to better understand their natural history and improve our ability to predict stock size and demographics. Another group led by Dr. Michael Stoskopf is collecting blood, muscle, and eye fluids to study the metabolism of these pelagic predatory fishes to better understand their ability to adapt to environmental pressures.
The Big Rock Tournament is a major event in Morehead City each year. 2015 marked the 56th annual tournament, which boasted a total purse of $1,632,650 competed for by 149 boats fishing for Marlin, tuna, mahi and other large pelagic predatory fish. The Big Rock tournament has provided more than $1 million to tournament winners for 15 straight years, but it’s beginings were much more humble.
The first tournament in 1957 was the dream of Bob and Mary Simpson, Bill Strickland, Tom Potter and Dick Parker – charter members of the Fabulous Fishermen Club. They convinced local business leaders to put up a cash prize of a couple hundred dollars which did the trick. Boats ventured further offshore blue marlin sightings began to come in, but in the summer of ’57, no blue marlins were caught. It wasn’t until September that Jimmy Croy, fishing aboard the Mary Z with Capt. K.W. “Bill” Olsen, landed a 143-pound blue marlin. The returning boat was greeted by a large gathering and blaring police sirens and an impromptu parade along the waterfront followed, which included a child’s red wagon filled with silver dollars, the prize for the tournament.
Exactly where Olsen and Croy made their historic catch remains unknown, but most think they reached the Gulf Stream where it crosses a structure on the continental shelf called “Big Rock” from which the tournament takes its name. The Big Rock is not a rock, but rather a series of ledges, peaks and plateaus about 8-10 miles long and 1 mile wide where many small reef fish are found, just a short distance from the Morehead City waterfront.
Next year’s Big Rock Tournament will be held June 10-18, 2016 and NCSU’s EMC and CMAST faculty and students will be there to learn more from the amazing fish caught.