Maine Delegation Asks for Forfeited Groundfish Permits of New Bedford Fisherman to Be Redistributed Throughout the Northeast

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Collins and King and U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin today sent a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asking that the thirteen groundfish permits forfeited by Carlos Rafael – a New Bedford fisherman who has plead guilty to 28 federal counts of tax evasion, falsifying fishing quotas and conspiracy – be redistributed to fishermen throughout the Northeast, not only New Bedford.

 

In their letter, the Maine Congressional Delegation said that groundfish permits embody a shared resource and, as such, should be returned to groundish fishermen in “a fair and uniform manner.”

 

“Mr. Rafael’s grave and extensive disregard for both the law and sustainable fishing practices is a setback to the recovery of the beleaguered Northeast multispecies (groundfish) fishery, and has done, and will continue to do, financial harm to fishermen from Maine to New York,” the Maine Congressional Delegation wrote in their letter. “These fishermen, who have complied with federal quotas and regulations, were forced to compete with this illegal activity and now must endure its repercussions on future stock assessments. For these reasons, we believe the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) should cancel each of the groundfish permits that Mr. Rafael currently holds and reallocate the fishing privileges associated with such permits to all eligible permit holders in the fleet.”

 

Earlier this year, Carlos Rafael pleaded guilty in federal proceedings to 28 criminal counts of conspiracy, false labeling and fish identification, falsifying federal records, tax evasion, and bulk cash smuggling.  As part of his plea, Mr. Rafael forfeited 13 fishing vessels and the associated groundfish permits.

 

The complete text of the letter can be read HERE and is below:

 

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June 19, 2017

 

 

The Honorable Wilbur L. Ross, Jr.

United States Secretary of Commerce

1401 Constitution Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20230

 

 

 

 

Dear Secretary Ross:

 

We write to express our interest in the treatment of fishing privileges associated with the groundfish permits currently held by Mr. Carlos Rafael following the conclusion of the case, United States v. Carlos Rafael. Mr. Rafael has plead guilty in federal proceedings to 28 criminal counts of conspiracy, false labeling and fish identification, falsifying federal records, tax evasion, and bulk cash smuggling. As part of his plea, Mr. Rafael will forfeit 13 fishing vessels and the associated groundfish permits. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, it is our understanding that Mr. Rafael’s actions would justify permanent revocation and redistribution of any permits remanded back to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) as part of the Department of Justice’s criminal case.

 

Mr. Rafael’s grave and extensive disregard for both the law and sustainable fishing practices is a setback to the recovery of the beleaguered Northeast multispecies (groundfish) fishery, and has done, and will continue to do, financial harm to fishermen from Maine to New York. These fishermen, who have complied with federal quotas and regulations, were forced to compete with this illegal activity and now must endure its repercussions on future stock assessments. For these reasons, we believe the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) should cancel each of the groundfish permits that Mr. Rafael currently holds and reallocate the fishing privileges associated with such permits to all eligible permit holders in the fleet. While this is an unprecedented situation, existing regulations (50 CFR 648.87) clearly establish this treatment of canceled permits.

 

We are specifically troubled that the City of New Bedford (where Mr. Rafael’s enterprise is based) is seeking to acquire control of his permits. We believe, instead, that all members of the fleet, including those in New Bedford, who have been disadvantaged by Mr. Rafael’s illegal activity, deserve a share of the rights to access these permits once remanded back to NMFS. Unlike other assets that are seized and liquidated in criminal proceedings and are distinct in their economic utility, these groundfish permits embody a shared resource and, as such, should be returned to groundfish fishermen in a fair and uniform manner.

 

We thank you for your attention to NMFS’s specific role in this very complex case and request your response on NMFS’s intentions with respect to the future of permits currently held by Mr. Carlos Rafael.

 

 

 

cc:        Mr. Samuel Rauch, NOAA Fisheries

Mr. John Bullard, NOAA Fisheries