New England Fisheries
The Fate of Rafael’s Tainted Groundfish Fortune Still Up for Grabs
New England has been trying to move on from Carlos Rafael, but it has not been easy – especially when the fate of his groundfish vessels and permits are left undetermined. With just days left to close on what many assumed was a done deal to purchase Rafael’s groundfish fortune, the situation has again become uncertain and still problematic.
The sale to Blue Harvest Fisheries was expected to close on December 26, but as Undercurrent News reports, Richard and Raymond Canastra, founders and owners of the New Bedford seafood auction Buyers and Sellers Exchange (BASE), are using their sector’s “right of first refusal” in an attempt to acquire Rafael’s vessels and permits. Those permits have real value and would allow access to “millions of pounds of quota for at least eight types of fish in the northeast multispecies fishery, including cod, haddock, American plaice, witch flounder, yellowtail flounder, redfish, white hake, and pollock.”
Undercurrent further explains the right of first refusal: “any member within sector 7 had 15 days to match the offer made by the outside bidder before the opportunity was opened to members of the other [qualifying] sectors . . .. The first offer to be made within the sectors is the winner . . .. So it’s possible that the Canastras have already locked up the vessels.”
The Worse of Two Evils?
These groundfish permits were acquired as part of Rafael’s illegal fishing scheme and many fishermen understandably believe that they should be available for redistribution to the groundfish fleet at large.
But there’s good reason to be wary here whether Rafael’s vessels and permits go to Blue Harvest, a New York-based private equity fund, or to the Canastras. Anyone with that type of buying power in the groundfish fishery can be expected to have extensive control over the resources. The Canastras, however, feel much too close to the events that got the fishery into this mess in the first place; Richard Canastra was not only a director in Sector IX at the time of Rafael’s illegal activities, but he and his brother through their company BASE may have enabled Rafael in some way.
As Rafael’s daughter told Undercurrent, NOAA Fisheries previously expressed serious concerns about the Canastras purchasing Rafael’s scallop fleet “because the violations which led to my father’s arrest took place at the unloading facility on BASE property.” Charges were never brought against the Canastras or BASE, but the history is what it is.
Trading one vertically integrated fishing operation for another? Seems like a bad idea particularly if the principals played questionable roles in the past. Allowing such a transaction would simply recreate the same dynamic that cloaked Rafael’s unlawful actions in the first place.
NOAA Fisheries must approve any sale of Rafael’s groundfish vessels and permits. It seems fitting that they should disapprove both deals and allow honest fishermen to reclaim what was taken from them.