The biggest player in the New England groundfishing industry says he is cashing out of the business, selling his scallopers and later his groundfish draggers, which count among the last in the country's top-grossing fishing port.
Carlos Rafael said his decision is in response to the state's cutting in half the amount of federal groundfish disaster relief aid he would get, according to the (New Bedford) Standard-Times.
The policy applies to all Massachusetts permit holders, but will affect only Rafael because he's the only one with more qualifying permits than the 10.9 permit cap.
Rafael said he expects to close on the scallop boats early this year, but said he's not naming the company because the deal hasn't closed. He said it's a "multibillion-dollar company" based overseas that will operate out of Virginia.
Rafael said he's staying in Dartmouth, Mass., where he lives, and will keep his city fish processing facility, Carlos Seafood. But he said he's moving his fishing business to the Cape Verde islands, where he will focus on the "virgin" mackerel fishery.
"I don't have any reaction at all," National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Northeast regional administrator John Bullard said. "I don't know it to be true, number one; number two, the scallop industry and the groundfish industry are very different industries; number three, people get in and out of industries all the time.”
Some say Rafael saved the region’s groundfish industry, which has been battered by declining stocks and catch limits that took effect five years ago. "If [Rafael's] boats stop fishing in New England, period ... then it's a serious problem for the groundfishery," said Dan Georgianna, an economist at the School for Marine Science and Technology in New Bedford.
The situation is already dire, Georgianna said. The value of groundfish landed in New Bedford declined from $31 million in 2011 to $19 million in 2013, according to a School for Marine Science and Technology study, a 44 percent drop.
Rafael, 62, said he started working on the docks when he was 19. He said he will seek to become a citizen of Cape Verde, which he said "is a democracy" where he'll be exempt from paying taxes for the first eight years.
"They work with you," he said of the Cape Verdean government. "Here they want to tax you to death."