Fishing boats that have been out of work since NMFS’ shutdown of Northeast Fishing Sector IX are making a move to salvage their livelihoods by switching fishing sectors.

The sector had its operating plan revoked in the fall after the criminal and civil actions trials of Carlos Rafael.

The 55 vessels, including four owned by Rafael, have moved to be included in Sector VII for the 2018-19 fishing season still wouldn't be allowed to fish, but they would be allowed to lease their groundfish quota in an attempt to recoup their losses.

"We had reached out to NOAA for guidance on how to advise our membership and see if they would be giving flexibility in regards to leasing if they remained in Sector IX," explained Sector IX Manager and Rafael's daughter Stephanie Rafael-DeMello. "NOAA really couldn't give a straight answer, so we went back to our membership and let them know we couldn't guarantee the option to lease this fishing year."

The Sector IX board has been working with NOAA to rectify the sector's operating plan, but Rafael-DeMello said the process has been slow.

In November, NMFS said a review showed that Sector IX undermined “foundational principles” necessary for successful sector operations. The majority of permit holders in the sector leased their groundfish quotas to Rafael operations.

The sector has been tasked with developing an operating plan that shows new preventative polices to avoid another high-level quota scheme and account for losses tied to Rafael's operation. But NOAA has yet to deliver relevant data to the sector for review.

"It doesn't mean they're not going to pay back what they owe," Richie Canastra, president of Sector VII, told WBSM News in New Bedford. "We're just waiting for the blessing of NOAA, and it's been about six months already with no answers as far as an accurate count of fish that has to be paid back."

"It was kind of a no-brainer," said Rafael-DeMello. "We didn't want these guys to get stuck in the sector and lose that leasing option. A lot of these guys are older and depend on that income. We didn't want to lock them in when we had no answers."

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Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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