April 24, 2017 — By late morning just before Easter weekend, three fishing vessels lined up at the docks to unload their catch, and they all belonged to one man — the local mogul known as the “Codfather,” Carlos Rafael.
“It’s a good haul,” a passing auction worker at the Whaling City Seafood Display Auction said under her breath, as crew members, some still in their orange waterproof bibs, unloaded the ice-packed fish.
For decades, Rafael’s fleet of some 40 vessels has been a staple of this city’s fishing industry, a sight as common as the seal that patrols the docks.
But now, Rafael’s recent conviction on federal charges that he cheated fishing regulations to boost his profits is putting his many vessels and permits up for grabs — potentially distributing them to ports along the New England coast. That would deliver an economic blow to New Bedford and the people who depend on the business created by Rafael’s fleet.
Rafael, 65, whose nickname given by locals derives from his brash business style, is expected to be sentenced in June to about four years in prison. Local officials are urging the federal government to keep the permits in New Bedford, home to the country’s most valuable fishing port and one of the last true ports on the East Coast.