Rafael enters pending sale of fleet to Canastra brothers

Carlos Rafael, who will start his 46-month prison sentence for skirting federal regulations and tax evasion on Nov. 6, must forfeit four fishing boats and 34 related permits used in his illegal scheme, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

His ownership stake in the forfeited assets is reportedly $2.6 million.

Prosecutors wanted Rafael to forfeit 13 boats and 13 groundfish permits in their filing but U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young, after initially hesitating and questioning the constitutionality of such a high-value forfeiture, opted for a forfeiture involving more permits and fewer boats.

In Young’s issued memorandum, he ordered that Rafael must surrender "all right, title and interest" to the 75-foot Bulldog and its eight permits, the 71-foot Olivia & Rafaela and its 11 permits, the 75-foot Lady Patricia and its four permits and the the Southern Crusader II and its 11 permits.

Only four of the forfeited permits are for groundfish.

Young specifically mentioned the 88-foot Athena and the 81-foot Hera II in his statement, noting that he refrained from adding them to the list of forfeited boats because they "have scalloping permits and scalloping is not involved in this wrongdoing."

The memorandum states that Rafael owns the Athena outright and that he has a one-half interest in the remainder of the fleet. The document estimates the gross value of Rafael’s vessels and permits is approximately $30 million, minus between $2 million and $3 million in liens and attachments, bringing the value down to somewhere between $27 million and $28 million.

"Rafael owns and operates one of the largest groundfish fleets in the United States and, for decades, he had continuously ignored and circumvented the regulatory restrictions on commercial fishing applicable to all fishermen," Young wrote in his ruling. "Here Rafael committed 23 Lacey Act violations, encompassing 782,812 pounds of fish (over 364 tons), and his actions impacted the entire New England fishery."

Meanwhile, Richard and Ray Canastra, owners of the Whaling City Seafood Display Auction in New Bedford, have reportedly entered into a memorandum of agreement with Rafael to buy his entire fleet of 28 boats and 42 permits for $93 million.

“We know boats. We know the business. We’re doing this to keep this in New Bedford,” said Richard Canastra in an interview with WBSM, a New Bedford radio station. “My plan is to get out, hopefully, in 10 years when things lighten up and it can be sold properly instead of this fire sale where people want everything for nothing.”

The sale going through is dependent on the federal government’s approval. In September, NOAA Regional Administrator John K. Bullard said the agency would not make a decision on what to do with forfeited assets until Young’s final ruling.

In the WBSM interview, Richard Canastra attributed the motivation to pursue Rafael’s permits to altruism, to keep the assets in New Bedford.

But some industry members in New England are worried the Canastra brothers, who worked with Rafael over the years, may be looking to take over the empire and run it in the same way.

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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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