Eleven scallop boats from the fleet of convicted fisheries violator Carlos Rafael will keep working out of New Bedford under local ownership, a victory for industry advocates.
Charlie and Michael Quinn, the father and son co-owners of Quinn Fisheries, appeared at the docks Tuesday afternoon with New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell to announce they had closed on a deal to buy six of the boats.
The Quinns paid about $40 million, said Michael Quinn. Mitchell, who with other Massachusetts political and industry leaders pushed to keep the boats in New Bedford, said the other five vessels and their permits are also now going to new owners based in the city.
Rafael is serving a 46-month federal prison sentence for tax evasion, falsifying fisheries landing reports and related offenses. The so-called “Codfather” controlled a large share of the groundfish and scallop fleets, until he was brought down by undercover federal agents.
Playing the role of Russian immigrant businessmen interested in buying his business, the agents recorded Rafael recounting how he falsified landing reports to get away with violating quota limits and masking the true volumes of fish and money coming into his operation.
As part of a settlement with NOAA Rafael agreed to sell all his vessels and permits and permanently leave the industry. The prospect that such a big chunk of the industry might be sold off – and maybe steam away to other ports – alarmed city and state officials with the prospect of permanent job losses.
“What we advocated over the last several years was that let the federal government do with Carolos what it will, but what we want is to make sure the fish are still coming in here to New Bedford, Mitchell said at the dockside press conference.
Sea scallops are the richest fishery on the U.S. East Coast and have consistently placed New Bedford at the top of U.S. ports by value landed. The city had that distinction for the 18th consecutive year in 2017 when $389 million in seafood crossed the docks, according the NOAA's annual reporting.
“The question has always been if those permits and boats would stay in New Bedford,” he said.
“It’s a big opportunity for us to bring these vessels in,” Michael Quinn said.