Carlos Rafael has until the end of 2020 to sell his remaining three dozen vessels and attached permits, otherwise a trust, established as part of his settlement with NOAA Fisheries, will take control of the assets and force a sale, a senior NOAA attorney said Monday.

Charles Green, the acting chief of the enforcement section of NOAA's office of general counsel, told the New England Fishery Management Council that Rafael has closed on three vessels and their associated permits. The enforcement section of the agency's general counsel's office negotiated the final settlement with the fishing mogul, once known as the Codfather, in the civil case brought by NOAA Fisheries.

The criminal case against Rafael, prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney in Boston, resulted in a 46-month federal prison sentence that the 67-year-old is serving at Devens Federal Medical Center in central Massachusetts. He is set to be released March 4, 2021, if he serves his entire sentence.

As part of the settlement that resolved all civil charges, Rafael agreed to a full divestiture of all vessels and associated permits, $3.3 million in civil penalties and a lifetime ban from participating in all federal fisheries. The settlement also included sanctions and penalties against 17 of Rafael's captains in the case that originally involved 88 separate violations. 

"He has agreed as part of the settlement to a full ban, a lifetime ban, on participation with any federal fishery," Green said. "As part of that, he is surrendering his dealer permit and divesting himself of all assets. So, at the conclusion of that divestiture period, he will be completely removed from all federal fishing."

Green said the goals of the initial prosecution and the ultimate settlement were the same — to remove Rafael from fishing, to return the fishing vessels and permits to productive use and to help assure that the wanton and widespread range of violations never occurs again.

Toward that end, Green said, NOAA Fisheries retains final approval on prospective buyers of Rafael's remaining fishing assets.

"Part of that is reviewing the purchasers of the assets to ensure that all of the asset transfers are arms-length transactions," Green said.

He said NOAA Fisheries will consider the compliance history of potential purchasers in the interest of trying to restore integrity to the fisheries involved.

Council member Elizabeth Etrie asked for more specifics on the criteria NOAA Fisheries may employ in culling suitable buyers from unsuitable.

"I think if we were to set the bar to say that the only person allowed to purchase one of these assets is someone who has an absolutely clean compliance history, the pool of buyers would be very small," Green said, adding that violations will be viewed through a prism of the seriousness, type and frequency of those violations. "The shorter answer is we'll know it when we see it."

Green also said "there is no geographic preference, one way of the other" in determining the suitability of buyers. He said negotiations continue with a number of prospective buyers and "they are geographically dispersed."

Jackie Odell, executive director of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, lamented that there haven't been more discussions of the "lesson-learned" variety, particularly as the Rafael case is expected to impact other management measures — such as the Amendment 23 monitoring amendment the council is set to discuss Wednesday.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.

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