Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter on October 15 to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration urging both organizations to keep 42 federal fishing permits in the town of New Bedford.
NOAA has called for the permits revocation in the wake of the Carlos Rafael, or “Codfather,” case. Rafael is currently serving a 46-month prison sentence for his role in quota and tax evasion schemes in New Bedford, which included misreporting hundreds of thousands of pounds of groundfish catches.
Most recently, NOAA has issued a 51-page superseding charging document related to the case that would increase the civil penalties associated the case from $1 million to $3 million.
In the letter, Warren calls on the organizations to punish Rafael, not New Bedford.
“He pleaded guilty to crimes associated to this case, and is rightly in jail, but many innocent people are also paying the price for his crimes,” Warren wrote. “These permits cover a significant portion of the ground fish industry and have an economic footprint that goes far beyond fish landings.”
New Bedford’s landings, and economy, were both impacted heavily by a lengthy ban on all groundfishing that NOAA enacted in the wake of the quota misrepresentation. A blanket ban on all 60 sector IX vessels lasted through to July of this year, sending landings into sharp decline.
That economic impact, which is harming many businesses in New Bedford, is why the permits should stay, Warren said.
“Millions of dollars of regional economic activity depend on Mr. Rafael's permits remaining in the City of New Bedford,” she wrote. “An innocent community should not be collateral damage for one business's crimes.”
The ex-regional administrator for NOAA, John Bullard, retired from his post in January but was involved in the case. He insists that the idea that Rafael acted alone ignores the truth of the situation.
“There’s a myth that Carlos Rafael is a single bad actor in an otherwise pristine operation. This is puzzling to me,” Bullard said. “Because he calls himself the ‘Codfather.’ That’s the name he gave himself. Likening himself to a mafia don. He models himself as the head of the criminal enterprise. Why anyone would think he is the only bad actor when he himself molded himself as the head of criminal enterprise just defies logic.”
For Warren, the damage that would be done to New Bedford if groundfishing permits are removed outweighs the involvement those fishermen had.
“We must do everything we can to save this way of life that is a central part of Massachusetts' character. The fishing industry is currently facing some difficult times, and the federal government must do everything it can to not worsen this situation,” she wrote. “Removing these permits from New Bedford would do lasting damage to families and businesses that have already suffered greatly through no fault of their own. I urge you all to do everything that is necessary to ensure that does not happen.”
This story was originally published on Seafood Source and is republished here with permission.