Updated: Aug 16, 2019
July 19, 2018: NOAA releases Interim Final Rule partially opening the Rafael sectors back up for business.
Illustration by Chad Lewis from the HAKAI magazine article linked to above
On March 30, 2017, Carlos Rafael pleaded guilty to falsely reporting catch information from 2012 through 2015. Since then, the question has been, “what will happen to his fleet of boats, permits, captains who were involved, and the city of New Bedford which is reeling from the loss of that fleet?” Today, we have a few more answers after NOAA released its final rule outlining the fate of the permits, boats, and sectors that Mr. Rafael was associated with.
In this final rule, NOAA has approved the operation plans for Sector 7 and Sector 9 which allow them to operate as a lease-only sectors. That means they can move quota in and out, but fishing is not allowed without further changes. The justification from NOAA was as such:
“Restricting the sector to only being able to participate in the groundfish fishery through ACE transfers with other sectors addresses our concerns about the sector’s ability to harvest groundfish and monitor and report that activity, consistent with the goals and objectives of the FMP. As a lease-only sector, Sector 9 vessels cannot actively fish for groundfish, but the sector is allowed to transfer groundfish quota to and from other sectors, which will facilitate the sector’s accounting for its ACE and overages…”
As additional justification, the final rule stated:
“The ACEs (allowed catch) being allocated to Sector 7 and 9 represent between 3 percent and 33 percent of the total quota for each allocated stock. Continuing to withhold this amount of quota from the fishery significantly hampers the ability of the fishery as a whole to operate.”
This rule will now allow Carlos Rafael and the rest of the fishing businesses in Sector 7 & 9 to lease allocation to and from their sector. Realistically, this means that some fish will move from 7 to 9 to cover previous overages from the crimes Rafael was convicted for. The rest of the fish will most likely move to active fishermen. This will make roughly the following amounts of quota available for fishermen in New England:
350,000lbs Georges Bank Cod 24,000lbs Gulf of Maine Cod 11,000,000lbs Georges Bank Haddock 1,500,000lbs Gulf of Maine Haddock 200,000lbs Yellowtail 335,000lbs American Plaice 100,000lbs Grey Sole 750,000lbs Winter Flounder 2,100,000lbs Redfish 5,200,000lbs Pollock
While extremely beneficial for those who are fishing, there are two things that should be clarified from the reporting that has come out around this decision:
The proceeds from the lease of these fish will go to Carlos Rafael. His family is still managing the permits, so when fishermen pay Sector 7 to lease fish, the money is going back to a man in jail for undermining the future of the fishery.
This decision does not get New Bedford boats back to work. In statements from both Senator Warren (MA) and Senator Markey (MA) they referenced this decision getting fishermen back to work in New Bedford. Every boat in both of these sectors is a lease only permit and not allowed to go fishing. This could have great benefits for other boats in other sectors and other ports, but it is not going to have a huge impact on many of the boats and captains and crew who have been trying to get back to work.
“This plan allows our fishing families and business to get back to work. One man committed criminal actions and he’s justifiably in jail, but a lot of innocent people and businesses paid a price for his fraud. Finally, the industry can now move forward and I will continue to do everything to help fishermen and their way of life that embodies the Massachusetts spirit.” Senator Elizabeth Warren
“NOAA’s actions mean that our impacted New Bedford fishermen will be able to get back in the water. I am glad that fishing sectors IX and VII finally have a path forward to restore the important balance between sustainable fishing and fishermen’s livelihoods. I will continue to monitor this situation to ensure continued progress and a fair resolution so we can ensure that our Massachusetts fishermen and fishing-related businesses thrive.”
Senator Ed Markey
Further details about the Final Rule follow:
As a result of Mr. Rafael’s crimes, his sector, Sector 9, was operating without having accounted for its actual catch, which exceeded what was reported for several important stocks in New England. As a result of that misreporting, NOAA withdrew approval of Sector 9, tying those boats to the dock and not allowing the movement of quota to or from other sectors.
Sector 9 ended the 2016 fishing year with quota overages for witch flounder, American plaice, Georges Bank cod, and Gulf of Maine yellowtail flounder. After being shut down for the 2017 fishing year, it was determined that for 2018 only a single overage of 72,224 lb (32.8 mt) of witch flounder remained to be paid back.
In March, sector Sector 9 moved 55 of the 60 permits previously enrolled into a different sector, Sector 7. Sector 7’s operation plan included a condition that required all permits owned by Mr. Rafael to be inactive and unable to fish in the groundfish fishery until the permit was sold to an independent third party. It also stipulated that Sector 7 would pay back any overage the remained in Sector 9. These operating rules and permit changes were determined to be substantive change to the operations plan, and accordingly NOAA determined that additional analysis and rule-making was required to approve the operations of both Sector 7 and Sector 9. This action is the result of that decision.