Warren: New Bedford should keep Rafael's fishing permits

J. Scott Applewhite/AP file photoDemocratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has written to the head of NOAA urging that Carlos Rafael's seized fishing permits remain in New Bedford. 

And another voice enters the fray.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has weighed in on the debate over the ultimate fate of Carlos Rafael's seized commercial fishing permits, saying in a letter to NOAA Fisheries the permits should remain in New Bedford.

"It has been reported that (Rafael's) fishing permits may be cancelled or seized by the federal government and I am urging you to do everything possible to ensure that those permits stay in the port of New Bedford," Warren wrote to Chris Oliver, NOAA Fisheries' assistant administrator for fisheries. "Not doing so has the potential to devastate the local economy and effectively punish numerous innocent workers and businesses in New Bedford for Mr. Rafael's crimes."

Warren's position aligns her with New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, who has led the campaign to keep Rafael's permits in New Bedford. Other public officials, such as Gov. Charlie Baker, have called for the seized Rafael permits to be redistributed to Massachusetts fishermen.

Some fishing stakeholders, such as the Associated Fisheries of Maine, have called for the seized permits to be redistributed to other permit holders throughout the entire Northeast multispecies groundfish fishery.

Warren said redistributing the permits outside of New Bedford has the potential of devastating the city's economy.

"Mr. Rafael's business accounts directly for three-quarters of the value of New Bedford's groundfish, which are necessary to diversify the port's fishing industry — as well as tens of millions of dollars in investments in the city of New Bedford and the livelihoods of hundreds of New Bedford fishermen," Warren wrote in the letter first obtained by the Savings Seafood website. "Removing Mr. Rafael's permits from New Bedford would do needless, immense damage not only to hundreds of responsible, law-abiding New Bedford fishermen, but also to the economy of New Bedford at large."

U.S. District Court Judge William Young sentenced Rafael to 46 months in federal prison — he's due to surrender to prison authorities on Nov. 6 — fined him $200,000 and instituted three years of supervised release following his jail time — after the fishing mogul pleaded guilty to lying to regulators, misreporting and misidentifying his landings and bulk smuggling the proceeds from the scam out of the country.

Rafael also is banned from operating in the fishing industry during his prison stay and during the three years of supervised release.

Young, however, has not signed off on the government's forfeiture plan that called for seizing 13 of Rafael's groundfish vessels and the accompanying permits. Young said he needed more time to study the constitutionality of the plan. 

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