Sector IX Fishermen Meet, Craft Letter to NOAA Regarding Shutdown
NEW BEDFORD — Representatives of the fishermen and others affected by NOAA's decision to halt commercial groundfishing in Sector IX due to the actions of "The Codfather" Carlos Rafael have crafted a letter explaining why they feel the decision was unjust.
About 40 fishermen and members of shoreside industries impacted by the fishing industry met Monday morning to discuss the letter, dated December 2, and try to figure out what steps they can take next now that their livelihood has been taken away.
The letter, signed by Sector IX board president Virginia Martins, acknowledges that Rafael's overfishing scheme "violated the core principles" of the Sector IX Management Plan, but takes issue with the notion that Sector IX is not currently in compliance with the plan. It says the decision "overlooks the significant changes implemented by the new Board."
Sector IX Board Member Ray Canastra tells WBSM News the NOAA decision, handed down on November 20th, is punishing the wrong people in the fallout from Rafael's actions.
"Everyone is out of work. You know, people are getting punished. These people haven't done anything wrong," he said. "Usually in this country, you get punished if you've done something wrong, right?"
Cassie Canastra, Director of Marketing for the Whaling City Seafood Display Auction, said NOAA's decision is hurting everyone who depends on the fishing industry in New Bedford.
"It's for everyone," she said. "Shoreside businesses like fuel, ice, the auctions, everyone. It's the fishermen most importantly, but it's everyone else who depends on those jobs."
She also said the decision has hit the fishermen extra hard, as this is the time of year they head out on the trip that helps pay for Christmas gifts, and help build up a financial cushion for when winter weather keeps them out of the water.
"They received that notice right before Thanksgiving, so it's like everyone was prepared to make those trips following Thanksgiving, and now they can't," she said. "So it's definitely a huge loss."
The NOAA decision also stated the Sector has not provided sufficient background information about the new board members. However, the Board's letter argues that they did provide that information, and all suggested members were found to be appropriate candidates. The new board is almost completely different from the previous board, and none of the members are affiliated with any Sector IX member.
The letter also states that all catches in Sector IX will now be reported through the Whaling City Seafood Display Auction, to avoid any false reporting of the amount or types of fish caught such as in Rafael's overfishing scheme.
The letter also requests that former New Bedford Mayor John Bullard, now the Regional Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service until his announced retirement early next year, come and sit with the new Board as soon as possible, to hopefully get the fishermen back out in the water before Christmas.
Ray Canastra feels, at the very least, Bullard can help shed some light on what the future holds for Sector IX, because he said right now, the Board has no idea what to tell the fishermen.
"They were looking for answers, and we don't have them for them yet," he said.