Fisheries management in America has come a very long way in 40 years, and is the envy of the world. In spite of tremendous fish stock improvements in all of our waters, things are less than perfect. The industrial fishing industry and the long standing seafood supply chain are often resistant to change. Friday’s shocking arrest of New Bedford fishing mogul Carlos Rafael, the largest vessel owner in New England, by the Justice Department speaks volumes about the need to protect fish, fishermen, and their communities.
Rafael was charged with conspiracy and submitting falsified records to the federal government to evade federal fishing quotas. The charges arose out of an undercover investigation in which federal agents posed as organized crime figures interested in buying the fishing business.
Amazingly, Carlos joked that the buyers might be federal agents when they pressed him for details about ‘Michael’ in New York. According to the affidavit of the undercover agent, Rafael said, “He [Michael] buys a lot of fish. You can become a laundromat. You’ll never find a better laundromat than this motherf**ker.” Rafael then said, “I could have to regret this to you [sic], because I don’t know you. You could be the IRS in here. This could be a cluster-f**k. So I’m trusting you. The only thing is, I open myself because both of you is Russians and I don’t think they would have two Russians [posing as agents]. F**k me – that would be some bad luck!”
Over the course of the next seven months, the agents returned several times to understand exactly how Rafael was selling fish under the table. They also met with ‘Michael’ the contact in New York who paid cash for this fish.
The upshot was documentation of a scheme where any fish caught over their quota on the various groundfish vessels was doctored in the trip report to be a different species, where the vessel had ample quota. So “grey sole became haddock, as did dabs”, while the vessels continued fishing and landing.
“I am a pirate,” Carlos Rafael once announced to a group of federal regulators at Fisheries Management Council meeting. “It’s your job to catch me.”
Dr. Joshua Wiersma, northeast fisheries manager for the Environmental Defense Fund issued a statement on the charges against Rafael: “This arrest and these allegations make it clear that NOAA must start an effective fishery monitoring system…..the current system of monitoring and reporting has clear holes in it that are being exploited to the detriment of honest fishermen across New England.”
Don’t buy fish from strangers.
All the best,
from the Dimin Family and the Sea to Table team