NMFS announced the decision to shut down Northeast Fishing Sector IX, a New Bedford sector dominated by Carlos Rafael, on Monday. In a statement, the agency said it would withdraw the sector’s operation plans for 2017 and 2018 and stop all operations for the groundfish fleet for the rest of this season.
"The action follows the guilty plea of Mr. Carlos Rafael, a major participant in Sector IX, who admitted to falsely reporting catch information," NMFS said in its statement.
NMFS said its review showed that Sector IX undermined "foundational principles" necessary for successful sector operations.
NMFS Regional Fisheries Administrator John K. Bullard told the Gloucester Times that the sector must now develop and submit an operating plan to NMFS by May 1 — the beginning of the 2018 fishing year — that details how the sector will correct its failings.
"The most basic responsibility of a sector is to count fish and make sure its members are under their quotas," said Bullard. "Sector IX hasn't figured out how to count fish or how to keep its members under their quotas."
In total, the NMFS order suspended 22 groundfish permits.
According to Andrew Saunders, the attorney representing Sector IX, two vessels were at sea when NMFS made its announcement.
“The thesis of the decision is that the sector’s not doing anything to address the problems,” said Saunders in an interview with South Coast Today. “Which it is doing something so I definitely disagree with it.”
The sector ban will last until the sector presents a plan that NMFS approves.
Sector IX President Virginia Martins said the sector has been working with NMFS directly as of late and did not expect this suspension.
“NOAA promised full consideration of the materials and they scheduled a follow-up meeting in December to discuss the matter further,” said Martins in a statement. “Based upon our good faith actions, we did not anticipate getting blindsided on this holiday week.”