New England’s Sector IX responds to NOAA move to suspend its fishing rights
Representatives of Northeast Fishery Sector IX have expressed their opposition to a decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service to withdraw its approval of its operations plan, which effectively forbids them from fishing for groundfish.
The move by NMFS is in response to past and ongoing non-compliance with the plan by the sector’s vessels, according to a letter sent 20 November by John Bullard, the regional administrator for the Greater Atlantic Fisheries Office of NMFS, to Sector IX President Virginia Martins. In his letter, Bullard said one of the biggest problems with the sector is its failure to account for the quota overages taken by Carlos “The Codfather” Rafael, the former fishing magnate who pleaded guilty to falsifying fish quotas in March.
However, in a response to Bullard sent 4 December, Martins said the Sector IX board found the NMFS decision “surprising and troubling.”
“Sector IX strongly believes that your initial determination was based upon incomplete information and respectfully asks that you reconsider your position,” Martins wrote.
The sector has made changes “aimed at breaking the past comingled reporting chain of both the seller and buyer, which allowed for the past criminal activity of Mr. Rafael,” Martins wrote.
Furthermore, the sector’s board is conducting an investigation into the totals by species, amount, and location of catch that Rafael did not report or misreported. It plans on passing that information on to NMFS, and to come up with an “appropriate penalty and/or sanctions against Mr. Rafael for his admitted past criminal activities which amount to a violation of the Sector IX Management Plan,” Martins wrote.
The board is also working to relocate the Sector IX office and formulate “a plan of transition to allow the board to accept the resignation of the current manager,” the letter said. The current manager Stephanie Rafael-DeMello, is Rafael’s daughter.
In addition, the board has been shuffled so that it now includes board president Martins, the owner of Bay Fuel, a marine supply store in New Bedford, Massachusetts; Ann Jardin-Maynard, the owner and president of Jardin and Dawson, an accounting firm that works closely with the fishing industry in New Bedford; John Reardon, a former commercial fisherman and currently general manager of Hercules SLR, which provides marine services; Tor Bendiksen, the chief operating officer at Reidar’s Trawl Gear and Marine Supply in New Bedford; Daniel Georgianna, a research associate at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science and Technology; and Raymond Canastra, the co-owner of the Whaling City Seafood Display Auction.
Canastra, along with his brother Richard Canastra, have signed a memorandum of understanding with Rafael to buy his fishing fleet and permits for USD 93 million (EUR 79.5 million). The agreement is pending regulatory actions and has not yet been finalized. In an October radio interview, Richard Canastra said the reason his family is pursuing the acquisition of Rafael’s permits is primarily motivated by altruism.
"We wanted to keep everything in New Bedford,” he said. “Ray and I had to make a decision – do we want to do this? I'm 56 years old, Ray is 60 years old. It's a big task...at this later stage in our life. We believe that it's the right thing to do for New Bedford. The waterfront has been good for us since 1986, [we] started the auction in '94, and we'd hate to see the industry collapse because of what Carlos did in the past."