Fight brewing over distribution of Codfather's fishing permits

Published on
June 30, 2017

Politicians in New England are getting involved in a fight for the groundfish permits belonging to Carlos Rafael, a fishing kingpin known as “the Codfather,” who pleaded guilty to tax evasion and falsifying fish quotas last year.

With Rafael’s sentencing scheduled for 28  July, lawmakers in New England are scrambling to improve their chances at shares of his fishing permits, which court documents indicate are likelly to be seized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal regulatory agency with oversight over U.S. fishing quotas.

The number and type of permits Rafael owns is not publicly known, but it’s believed that he controls a quarter of the quota allotted by the government for groundfishing in New England, which covers species such as cod, grey sole, and haddock, according to the Boston Globe.

Officials in Rafael’s home port of New Bedford, Massachusetts, are urging the federal government to maintain the permits in the local area. Mayor Jon Mitchell has appealed to the Justice Department and NOAA, saying removing the permits from New Bedford would harm the local economy.

The mayor has put forward to alternative plans that would allow the permits to stay in New Bedford: federal authorities could allow Rafael to sell his permits, and then seize the profits, or the city could establish a permit “bank” at the New Bedford Harbor Development Commission, the city’s port authority, and lease the permits to local fishermen, according to the Globe.

However, others from within the regional fishing industry say the permits should be returned to a general pool and redistributed equally throughout New England, saying fishermen throughout the entire fishery suffered as a result of Rafael’s actions. Maine’s bipartisan congressional delegation is making a similar push, with Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin recently sending a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asking that the permits be redistributed beyond the city. 

Asked about the fate of the permits, officials with the Justice Department and NOAA declined to comment to the Globe. 

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