BANGOR, Maine — Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin sent a letter Monday to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asking that the 13 groundfish permits forfeited by Carlos Rafael — a New Bedford fisherman who has pleaded guilty to 28 federal counts of tax evasion, falsifying fishing quotas and conspiracy — be redistributed to fishermen throughout the Northeast, not only New Bedford.
In their letter, the Maine congressional delegation said that groundfish permits embody a shared resource and, as such, should be returned to groundfish fishermen in “a fair and uniform manner.”
“Mr. Rafael’s grave and extensive disregard for both the law and sustainable fishing practices is a setback to the recovery of the beleaguered Northeast multispecies (groundfish) fishery, and has done, and will continue to do, financial harm to fishermen from Maine to New York,” the delegation wrote.
“These fishermen, who have complied with federal quotas and regulations, were forced to compete with this illegal activity and now must endure its repercussions on future stock assessments,” they wrote. “For these reasons, we believe the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) should cancel each of the groundfish permits that Mr. Rafael currently holds and reallocate the fishing privileges associated with such permits to all eligible permit holders in the fleet.
“We are specifically troubled that the City of New Bedford (where Mr. Rafael’s enterprise is based) is seeking to acquire control of his permits. We believe, instead, that all members of the fleet, including those in New Bedford, who have been disadvantaged by Mr. Rafael’s illegal activity, deserve a share of the rights to access these permits once remanded back to NMFS,” the delegation wrote.
Earlier this year, Rafael pleaded guilty in federal proceedings to 28 criminal counts of conspiracy, false labeling and fish identification, falsifying federal records, tax evasion and bulk cash smuggling. As part of his plea, Rafael forfeited 13 fishing vessels and the associated groundfish permits.