EDF cites “unprecedented opportunity” to improve NE fishery after Carlos Rafael crimes

On March 15th, Environmental Defense Fund called on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to take advantage of an “unprecedented opportunity” to help revitalize the New England groundfish fishery by using the sale of Carlos Rafael’s assets to usher in critical reforms.

In a letter to NOAA, EDF urged the agency to use its authority in administrative proceedings against Rafael to address two critical problems that have undermined sustainability and hurt coastal communities.  Acute consolidation allowed the fishing magnate to control a significant portion of the fishery, while the absence of effective at-sea and dockside monitoring undermined science-based catch limits. A recent report estimated that Rafael’s holdings account for up to 25 percent of the value of the groundfish fishery, while NOAA continues to assess key New England groundfish stocks as overfished.

Mr. Rafael pleaded guilty last year to several counts that included falsely labeling large amounts of fish. Then in January, NOAA initiated administrative proceedings against Rafael that are yet to be resolved.

“The individuals, businesses and communities, New Bedford in particular, that depend on fishing continue to face hardship because of Mr. Rafael’s crimes,” said Matt Tinning, EDF’s Senior Director, U.S. Oceans Program.

EDF called on NOAA to limit the consolidation of permits and quota by requiring multiple buyers when the agency approves the sale of Rafael’s assets. This action would assist more New England fishermen in accessing much needed quota.

Specifically the letter said: “The consolidation of vessels and permits in this fishery under Mr. Rafael’s control has done real and lasting damage to the social fabric of coastal New England. Despite long-standing calls by EDF and many others for the adoption of meaningful accumulation limits, there have been repeated failures to emulate the kinds of provisions that have been incorporated successfully into management programs in other fisheries.”

EDF also recommended that as a condition of purchase, all of Rafael’s former vessels be fully monitored, and that NOAA use any additional fines collected as a part of this case to fund the adoption of more cost-effective monitoring. The existing New England groundfish monitoring program requires that only 10-14 percent of fishing trips carry an observer to monitor what is caught, and there are no monitors at the docks to ensure a level playing field for all fishermen. In other fisheries, management reform that has included 100 percent monitoring coverage has fueled rapid recovery. For example, Pacific groundfish landings rose almost 50 percent in 2017 under reformed management.

The closing of the letter underscored the opportunity: “Although there is no way for us to turn back the clock, and the damage done by Rafael will continue to reverberate in New England for years to come, his criminal conviction followed by NOAA Fisheries’ strong civil and administrative assessment does provide a critical opportunity to learn from our mistakes and begin to make amends. The fishery is at such an important juncture, and your actions in this matter could make all the difference.”
You can read the full letter here.

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