Mitchell: Don’t Punish New Bedford By Redistributing Rafael’s Permits
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell has penned a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to argue that the fishing permits of convicted fishing magnate Carlos Rafael should remain in New Bedford when the so-called "Codfather" is sentenced in federal court June 27.
Rafael pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges after mislabeling hundreds of thousands of pounds of fish, a scheme which allowed him to evade federal fishing regulations. He then snuck the profits, in cash, to Portugal.
Mitchell said Rafael's business, Carlos Seafood, was one of the largest commercial fishing enterprises in the United States, comprised of both his scallop boats and his groundfish boats. Mitchell said the groundfish business, which was the subject of the criminal charges, accounts for about 75 percent of the groundfish landings in the port of New Bedford right now.
"There are a number of businesses that rely very heavily on that catch," he said in his weekly appearance on WBSM.
In the letter to NOAA's Samuel D. Rauch III, the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, Mitchell stresses the devastating economic fallout to the port if the permits cannot remain in New Bedford.
There are calls for Rafael's permits to be redistributed, including possibly to fishermen as far away as Maine. Mitchell said both the governor and the senators from Maine have been calling for that to happen, but Mitchell said that would lead to a lot of people from New Bedford "taking it on the chin."
"I'm arguing that, look, this guy is going to jail. He will have lost his business," Mitchell said. "They should, as they fashion a sanction for him, take into account the harm that might be caused by the demise of his business to innocent third parties, to people in New Bedford that don't deserve to be punished at all."
Mitchell believes it would be better for Rafael to sell his business to someone local, and use the proceeds to pay off the government, rather than have the government seize his boats and licenses and try to sell them off on its own.
"There are folks in the port that are interested. Hopefully they can work out a deal so that Carlos, instead of foreiting his business and vessels to the government, he can pay an equivalent in cash instead. That's the idea."
"Those types of things happen all the time in different kinds of cases. It's not that novel of an idea," Mitchell said. "My concern is that they're not thinking along those lines, so I wanted to go on record making my case."
Mitchell said that in addition to sending the letter to NOAA, he's also made numerous phone calls to the organization, as well as to the U.S. Attorney's Office, stressing the need to keep the licenses in New Bedford.
"I just want them to know, a lot of people here in New Bedford would suffer if his business goes down and the permits are sold to other places," he said. "So don't do that."
Read the entirety of Mayor Mitchell's letter to NOAA here: Carlos Rafael Letter