Blue Harvest Fisheries has acquired of 12 vessels and 27 fishing permits from the Carlos Rafael family, the company announced Thursday.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
In September, Quinn Fisheries, a New Bedford scallop producer, agreed to pay $40 million (€36.9 million) for six of Rafael's scallop vessels. Five of Rafael’s remaining scallop boats were acquired by other New Bedford scallop harvesters.
“Blue Harvest is committed to carrying on the best aspects of New Bedford and New England’s storied fishing traditions, and we’re excited to expand our work on the waterfront,” said Keith Decker, CEO and president of Blue Harvest.
This agreement ensures a major portion of the groundfish fishery remains in the Port of New Bedford, with vessels docked in New Bedford and crewed by local fishermen, he said. Groundfish from Blue Harvest’s newly acquired vessels will be landed at the company’s SQF certified, 160,000 square foot seafood processing facility on the New Bedford waterfront. Blue Harvest has invested millions of dollars into upgrades for this facility, including installing six high-capacity processing lines, direct offload capability, and increased freezing capacity. With higher landings as a result of the newly purchased vessels, the company said it expects to increase operations at this facility.
Acquiring these vessels and permits allows Blue Harvest to fish MSC-certified fisheries in Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine to harvest haddock, ocean perch, and Atlantic pollock, which have all been severely underfished in recent years, the company said.
"With expanded fishing operations and improved processing capabilities, we aim to improve price stability and reduce market volatility for all local operations," Decker said.
Rafael was convicted on 28 criminal counts in 2017. He admitted to falsifying fish quotas, tax evasion and conspiracy, and was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison. He was forced to sell his fishing fleet, pay $3 million (€2.8 million) in penalties, and never engage in commercial fishing again.
Blue Harvest said it is committed to 100 percent dockside monitoring of its landings. The Sustainable Harvest Sector, a cooperative of fishing vessels operating from ports throughout New England, which like all groundfish sectors, will hire an independent firm to conduct the monitoring and report to NOAA fisheries officials.
"This will ensure that all product landed from our vessels is properly reported under the supervision of independent monitors," the company said.
In addition, the sector’s membership has authorized its board to require additional monitoring should an elevated risk of misreporting ever arise.
"We are also working with regional partners on electronic monitoring aboard our vessels to develop that technology for use throughout the industry, and to advance the goal of complete transparency of our product from the moment it leaves the water to the time it’s sold," said Blue Harvest.
“From the moment [Carlos] Rafael was arrested, our priority has been to ensure that his fishing permits remain in New Bedford,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell.
“I appreciate that NOAA gave our arguments careful consideration in fashioning a settlement that opened the door to the acquisition announced today, which will achieve the outcome we sought. I look forward to supporting Blue Harvest’s plan to grow in New Bedford and create more jobs for our residents.”