NOAA Seeks to Ban the "Codfather" from Fishing for Life
Carlos Rafael, the "Codfather" who once dominated New Bedford's groundfish fleet, is serving four years in prison for falsifying catch records and evading taxes. He has forfeited four boats and 34 valuable fishing permits. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has shuttered the entire quota sector where his business once operated, leaving all of his boats tied to the dock. Now, NOAA is looking to fine him nearly $1 million for 35 civil violations, revoke his company's seafood dealer license, revoke the permits of all the fishing vessels that were implicated in his illegitimate activities and ban him from applying for NOAA fishing permits for life.
The new charges will affect Rafael, 28 of his business units and two scallop boat captains, Manuel Pereira and Carlos Pereira. In announcing the civil action, NOAA expanded the scope of its allegations by adding a charge for false reports on the amounts of four boats' scallop catches; all previous charges were related to Rafael's groundfish take. These new charges account for $840,000 out of the proposed $980,000 fine.
New Bedford's mayor, Jon Mitchell, said that the civil charges were "overkill" and will probably end in a lesser settlement. "It seems to be a much more severe penalty than what the crimes called for," said Jim Kendall, head of New Bedford Seafood Consulting, speaking to local paper South Coast Today.
The closure of Sector IX has also received mixed reviews. In other parts of New England, many fishermen and fisheries officials have called it fair and appropriate. NOAA regional administrator John K. Bullard, who is set to retire January 16, defended his decision to shutter the sector in a recent editorial. "The withdrawal of Sector IX's operations plans is not about punishment," he wrote. "The withdrawal is about fair management of the whole groundfish fishery in New England. Accurate reporting, accountability and organizational integrity are core principles of the sector system." But in New Bedford, many along the waterfront lament the closure's effects. At least 80 fishermen no longer have work on Rafael's boats, and there are many suppliers who have seen their sales diminish while his fleet is tied up at the dock.