New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell says as many as 80 fishermen could be affected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's decision to withdraw the operations plan for Sector IX earlier this week and halt all groundfishing in that sector immediately.

In his weekly appearance on WBSM, the mayor said keeping those vessels from doing any further commercial groundfishing will hurt not only the fishing industry, but also a number of businesses on the shore.

"Crystal Ice, Sea Fuels, Radars Manufacturing, the settlement houses--there is some economic harm that comes from this," he said.

Mitchell said Sector IX refers to a group of 22 boats and permits, just about all of which are owned either in whole or in part by convicted "Codfather" Carlos Rafael.

"What happened this week is that NOAA decided that sector had not accurately accounted for its fish the last few years, mostly in part because a lot of those boats were part of the fraud Carlos had committed, lying about what he caught and how much," Mitchell said. He said NOAA felt the sector "didn't have in place the measures to ensure it would have accurate accounting in the future."

"Basically what they said was, 'We've got to shut you down, because we don't have confidence you're going to do this accurately,'" he said.

Although NOAA has made the decision, Mayor Mitchell thinks there is still some room to allow those fishermen to get back in the water.

"There are more meetings for me to set up, and I've been talking with different folks from different levels of government," Mitchell said. "The federal government should allow a deal between Carlos Rafael and the folks who operate right in the port, to transfer those vessels, and use the proceeds of those sales to discharge his forfeiture obligations and whatever fines he has to pay the government. That's the way it should happen."

"Frankly, it's as clear as day to me that's how this case should proceed, but I'm not convinced yet that NOAA fully understands the necessity to proceed that way, but I'm going to continue to press my case," he said.

Mitchell said it's "hard to say" how many fishermen are affected by NOAA's decision, because these days, crews work more than one boat and with smaller crews than they have in the past. He thinks about 80 fishermen or so on the 22 vessels will be affected.

"It's hard to know how much of the quota they've already caught at this point through the fishing year," he said, noting that groundfishing boats don't go out as much in the winter months.


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