NOAA ends fishing career of New Bedford’s “Codfather”

ELLSWORTH — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Monday that it has reached a settlement of its civil claims against onetime fisheries magnate Carlos Rafael that will ban New Bedford’s notorious “Codfather” from commercial fishing permanently.

The civil settlement is the latest step in the federal government’s efforts to deal with Rafael’s illegal fishing for scallops and other species.

Rafael, 65, of North Dartmouth, Mass., pleaded guilty in March 2017 to one count of conspiring to commit offenses against the United States, 23 counts of false labeling and fish identification, two counts of falsifying federal records, one count of bulk cash smuggling and one count of tax evasion.

He began serving a 46-month prison sentence in November 2017. NOAA had also sought the revocation of 38 vessel fishing permits, effectively reducing the value of almost every vessel in Rafael’s fleet to zero.

According to a press release from NOAA, Rafael will pay a $3 million civil fine, surrender the federal dealer permit held by the Carlos Seafood business he owned, permanently end all groundfish and scallop fishing and sell all federal fishing permits and fishing boats he owns or controls by the end of 2020.

Under the terms of the settlement, Rafael’s fleet must stop all groundfish fishing by the end of this year. His former scallop boats will be allowed to continue fishing until March 31, 2020. Under NOAA’s fishery management rules, the “fishing year” for Atlantic sea scallops runs from April 1 to March 31.

The 17 fishing boat captains who formerly worked for Rafael will have their federal vessel operator permits suspended for periods ranging from 20 to 200 days and will be on probation for periods of one to three years for their own violations of federal fishing rules, NOAA said.

“Today’s settlement of the government’s civil case against Carlos Rafael accomplishes NOAA’s chief objective of permanently removing Mr. Rafael from participation in federal fisheries,” Chris Oliver, the administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) said in a press release. “The settlement also clears the way for Mr. Rafael’s fishing assets that have been tied up in this litigation to be returned to productive use.”

NMFS also punished the fishing captains involved in Rafael’s extensive catch misreporting scheme and “serves as a reminder that no one is exempt from the rules,” Oliver said.

The Codfather case is reminiscent of a federal fisheries law enforcement case much closer to home.

In 2014, the U.S. District Court in New Jersey sentenced D.C. Air & Seafood Inc. owner Christopher Byers of Winter Harbor to 30 months in prison for illegally harvesting nearly 80,000 pounds of Atlantic sea scallops harvested off the coast of New Jersey and Cape Cod in 2007 and 2008. The company also was ordered to pay $520,371 in restitution, representing the value of the sea scallops.

As part of Byers’ plea agreement, he was placed on probation for five years after completing his sentence.

During that time, his company is subject to an environmental compliance plan to ensure all purchases and sales of fish comply with federal law. The company is also barred from participating in the federally controlled scallop fishery during the probationary period.

Several vessel captains or vessel owners also pleaded guilty to illegally harvested scallops for D.C. Air and were sentenced in federal court to fines and various terms of probation, some as long as five years.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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