Northeast Fishing Sector IX was shut down by NMFS in mid-November after officials accused sector leaders of negligence for allowing Carlos Rafael’s illegal quota skirting scheme, and now the sector wants a chance to defend itself.
“Sector IX strongly believes that your initial determination was based upon incomplete information and respectfully asks that you reconsider your positions,” wrote Virginia Martins, Sector IX president, in a letter to NOAA Regional Administrator John K. Bullard. “This board is willing to reshape the sector for the good of the community and the industry.”
NMFS withdrew the sector’s operation plans for 2017 and 2018 and stop all operations for the groundfish fleet for the rest of this season. The sector must submit a new operating plan detailing efforts to correct its failings by May 1.
Martins criticized NMFS' decision to shutter the sector, citing efforts in the last six months to improve management within the sector, including the appointment of new board members and the formation of an enforcement committee. When the decision was made, Martins said the sector felt blindsided by the decision, noting sector leaders had met with NMFS staff recently to address points of concern.
“To the board, it appears that all of its past work has fallen on deaf ears and that the revocation of the sector’s authorization was a foregone conclusion,” Martins wrote.
The sector's board is asking Bullard, who is set to retire in January, and NMFS officials to come to New Bedford for a meeting to discuss concerns and meet affected industry stakeholders.
According to the Gloucester Times, NMFS has accepted the invitation and is currently coordinating a meeting with the board.
In her letter, Martins wrote that the board wants to have the meeting as soon as possible so the two groups can discuss lifting the ban and put the “hardworking people dependent on Sector IX can get back to work before Christmas.”