Massachusetts legislators: “Codfather” reparations should go to e-monitoring

Published on
August 24, 2017

A group of Massachusetts legislators is requesting that settlement funds from the Carlos Rafael criminal case should be used to pay for electronic monitoring on fishing vessels. 

Carlos “The Codfather” Rafael, owner of Carlos Seafood, pleaded guilty to falsifying fish quotas, tax evasion and conspiracy in late March. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for 25 September and 26 September in U.S. District Court in Boston.

In a mid-August letter sent to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, the group of 12 state legislators said more comprehensive electronic monitoring aboard Massachusetts fishing vessels should be implemented with the settlement from the Rafael case, the legislators said.

“While fisherman may agree or disagree about monitoring, the challenge is constant, and that is who pays for it,” the representatives wrote to the governor in the letter obtained by SeafoodSource. “Mr. Rafael has been flouting the rules for decades. His fishing enterprises have accounted for hundreds of millions of dollars of economic impact over those decades, but he has gained at the expense of his fellow fishermen, federal regulators and even the researchers who have been unknowingly using data fouled by his criminal schemes. With the hope of a significant financial penalty handed down in this case, implementation could be achieved without being burdensome to the fleet.”

In their letter, the legislators also requested that Rafael’s fishing permits be re-distributed to commercial fishermen in Massachusetts, and should not leave the state, as other regional lawmakers have pushed for. As part of his guilty plea, Rafael has agreed to forfeit 13 fishing boats and their associated groundfish permits. The forfeited permits will return to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which has yet to decide what to do with them. 

“Mr. Rafael’s blatant disregard for the law and sustainable fishing practices is a challenge to the beleaguered groundfish industry and has greatly harmed the vast majority of law-abiding Massachusetts fishermen,” the letter said. “We urge you to contact NMFS to urge them to cancel each of his ground fish permits and re-distribute the fishing privileges to all eligible permit-holders in the Massachusetts fleet.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has yet to assess the initial capital cost or the ongoing cost that cameras on vessels will amount to, according to South Coast Today, though NOAA is testing e-monitoring in a one-year pilot project involving a few commercial fishing boats.

In addition, the NEFMC is looking into ways to pay for the future expenses associated with e-monitoring.

“We’re trying to study the pros and cons before we take any full action,” John Quinn, chairman of the New England Fisheries Management Council, told South Coast Today. “I think having these pilot programs are helpful for the council.”

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