New England Fisheries

Judge Orders the Codfather to Forfeit Vessels and Permits

Photo credit: Joachim S. Mueller.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Young issued a decision ordering the forfeiture of four vessels and 34 groundfish permits belonging to Carlos Rafael, the Codfather. The total appraised value of the forfeiture is approximately $2.25 million.

Those with an interest in the Codfather’s case had been patiently awaiting the Judge’s forfeiture ruling since Rafael’s sentencing hearing at the end of September. It was at that hearing when Rafael was sentenced to nearly 4 years in prison for falsifying fish quotas, cash smuggling, and tax evasion. At that time, however, the Judge took the forfeiture issue under advisement as he needed more time to contemplate the constitutional implications. While the federal government was asking for forfeiture of all 13 vessels and the associated permits that Rafael used in his crimes, ultimately, the Judge decided that would be an excessive penalty and violate Rafael’s constitutional rights.

A statement from Conservation Law Foundation attorney Megan Herzog, who has been an active voice in the Rafael case, said, “Mr. Rafael’s crimes put the health of our fisheries directly in harm’s way, and [the Judge’s] order helps sure that he pays a price for that corruption. Though this amounts to just a small slice of Mr. Rafael’s assets, it sends a signal that anyone who crosses the line will be held criminally accountable.”

The criminal side of Rafael’s case has come to a close, but believe it or not, this is not the last we will hear of the Codfather. NOAA still has to decide what to do with the forfeited permits and vessels, and the agency is still allowed to take civil action against Rafael, which could mean another round of fines and possibly permit suspension or revocation. The timeline on civil action at this time is still unknown.

Needless to say, the Codfather has left a permanent mark on New England’s fishing history, but there is hope to move beyond it. New England has the opportunity to invest in stronger monitoring requirements to achieve 100 percent accountability in the groundfish fishery. Also, redistributing Rafael’s quotas throughout New England would be a step toward mitigating the harm that Rafael caused to his fellow fishermen and help New England’s groundfish industry begin to recover from this dark chapter in its history. Ultimately, moving forward, we can decide what the future of fisheries in New England looks like.


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