After many twists and turns, Blue Harvest Fisheries of New Bedford has finally closed on a deal to buy 12 of Carlos Rafael's former groundfishing vessels and 27 of his permits.

"This acquisition will allow Blue Harvest to keep vital fishing and seafood processing jobs in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and furthers the company's goal of providing consumers with premium, sustainable U.S.-harvested seafood," Blue Harvest said in a statement.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, approved the sale.

Blue Harvest said the agreement "ensures a major portion of the groundfish fishery remains in the Port of New Bedford and crewed by local fishermen."

The terms of the transaction were not released.

Rafael, the infamous "Codfather," in September of 2017 was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for fisheries fraud, tax fraud, and currency smuggling. A related civil suit forced Rafael, then-owner of Carlos Seafoods, Inc, to sell all of his vessels and permits and get out of the fishing business forever.

Rafael at the time owned 32 fishing vessels through independent corporate shells and 44 permits, which amounted to one of the largest commercial fishing businesses in the United States.

The battle for who would own those assets saw several twists and turns, including a failed effort last year by New Bedford seafood auction Buyers and Sellers Exchange (BASE) to exercise a right of first refusal to take over the deal. BASE had expressed concern about the impact of the Blue Harvest acquisition on independent fishermen. The Rafael permits have lain dormant and not been used for three or four years.

“Our goal is to start fishing as many of the vessels as we can,” Decker told SeafoodSource. “Our goal is to go over the vessels, do whatever capital improvements and maintenance is required, and fish them.”

Decker said Blue Harvest in 2018 bought five trawlers, but that the fleet does not land enough to match Blue Harvest's processing capacity. On New Bedford Harbor, Blue Harvest has invested millions in a 160,000 square foot seafood processing facility.

Last September the New Bedford-based Quinn Fisheries purchased 11 of Rafael's scallop vessels.

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