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A fishing magnate known as the Codfather will never be allowed to return to U.S. fisheries, the federal government said Monday in announcing it has settled its civil case against a man whose arrest for shirking quotas and smuggling profits overseas shocked the East Coast industry.
The settlement with Carlos Rafael and his fishing captains will clear the way for his assets to be divested, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. Those assets have been embroiled in litigation.
Rafael was based out of New Bedford, and was sentenced to nearly four years in prison in 2017. He was owner of the one of the largest commercial fishing operations in the country.
NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Chris Oliver said Monday the settlement "accomplishes NOAA's chief objective of permanently removing Mr. Rafael from participation in federal fisheries." It will also help return Rafael's assets to productive use when they are sold, he said.
"Mr. Rafael's forced divestiture and permanent ban from commercial fishing is a fitting end to this case, on top of the criminal sentence he is already serving," Oliver said.
Rafael's attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment.
NOAA's settlement with Rafael also states he is required to pay a civil penalty of just over $3 million and relinquish a seafood dealer permit. He has until the end of 2020 to sell fishing permits and vessels he owns and controls, and the transactions must be approved by NOAA.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell told WBUR he was satisfied that federal authorities decided not to prohibit Rafael from selling his assets to buyers in the city. He added he expects Rafael to be true to his word that the boats and permits will go to locals.
"He has to live here after all, and so I assume that he will follow through on on that promise," Mitchell said. "And I know that a lot of folks on the waterfront have insisted that he do that.”
Seventeen of Rafael's former fishing vessel captains also face penalties under the settlement. One condition is that they must serve suspensions during which they can't board federally permitting vessels while the vessels are at sea, or even offloading. Those suspensions vary from 20 to 200 days based on the captain's violations.
Rafael eventually pleaded guilty to false labeling and other charges after federal authorities charged he was operating an elaborate fish fraud. They said his vessels claimed to catch haddock or pollock when they had actually brought species to shore that are subject to stricter quotas. He then smuggled proceeds to Portugal.
Rafael's scheme, and his combative attitude, have made him the subject of television specials, including an episode of the CNBC series "American Greed" that quotes him boasting about controlling the market in New Bedford, one of the most important U.S. fishing ports.
"I have been concerned about the reputational effect on the port that this case has had for the last few years," said Mitchell, "and this is an opportunity to turn the page.”
With additional reporting from WBUR's Simón Rios
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