New England Fisheries

John Bullard Op-Ed on Carlos Rafael Case

Photo credit: Dieter Craasmann.

Since his arrest, Carlos Rafael and the implications of his crimes seem to have never left the spotlight. Among all of the stories, two recent op-eds in the South Coast Today – well, really the response to the first op-ed – caught our eye.

The first, written by James DeMello of Dartmouth, MA, calls for the need to separate Carlos Rafael and his crimes from the community of New Bedford. He says Rafael is being punished for his crimes – “enough said and done in this regard…government needs to act immediately.” Mr. DeMello recommends that Rafael’s currently confiscated vessels be allowed to return to fishing “under strict government control,” so that fishermen and the community are no longer negatively impacted.

Without even getting too into the weeds on this one, we see more than one flaw with Mr. DeMello’s recommendations. First, Carlos Rafael was so imbedded in the New Bedford fishing community that it is not so easy to simply separate the two. The fishermen of Sector IX entered into an agreement with one another to fish according to their operations plan and federal regulations. Carlos Rafael’s violations, therefore, are the sector’s responsibility as well.

Second, New England’s groundfish fishery (and U.S. fisheries as a whole) already face some of the strictest regulations in the world. Carlos Rafael and Sector IX already violated the public’s trust by disobeying those regulations. It will take careful planning before they are allowed back on the water, and former Regional Administrator John Bullard agrees.

Bullard, now unstrained by the politics of his former job, wrote his own op-ed in response to Mr. DeMello. He made some things about this case very clear:

“Carlos Rafael is a crook. He always has been. NOAA didn’t make him a crook. The federal government didn’t make him a crook. He bragged about being a crook and called himself the “Codfather” after the Mafia and said it was the federal government’s job to catch him. And the federal government did. More than once. He ran a criminal enterprise where the culture was to break the law and see if the feds could catch him. Shortly after he was put in jail, one of his boats was caught with extra scallops. Then it went to the bottom of the harbor.”

The Codfather may have fallen from grace, but violations still persist in his community. It’s evident that this is a problem that stems beyond Carlos Rafael. Bullard agrees that action is needed to get Sector IX fishing again, but “a ‘good’ solution takes time.” Bullard adds that this is no longer just about Sector IX, but “the integrity of the sector system.”

The effects of Carlos Rafael’s crimes are not isolated to New Bedford but have rippled throughout New England. In a region where fishermen already lack trust in government, the agency must handle with care. And while everyone would like to see a quick fix, it is important that a solution is well thought out so that this can never happen again.

Read John Bullard’s full op-ed here.


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