Feds Confiscate the big Fish

I understand why the rule exists, but really, this story just feels wrong:

This fish story may lack the epic qualities of Ernest Hemingway’s 1952 classic“The Old Man and the Sea,” but for New Bedford’s Carlos Rafael, the outcome was about the same. In both cases, despite capturing and bringing home a huge fish, powerful circum­stances conspired to deprive the luckless fishermen of a potentially huge reward.

Boat owner Rafael, a big player in the local fishing industry, was elated when the crew of his 76-foot steel dragger Apollo told him they had unwittingly captured a giant bluefin tuna in their trawl gear while fishing offshore.

“They didn’t catch that fish on the bottom,” he said. “They probably got it in the mid­water when they were setting out and it just got corralled in the net. That only happens once in a blue moon.”

Rafael, who in the last four years purchased 15 tuna permits for his groundfish boats to cover just such an eventuality, imme­diately called a bluefin tuna hot line maintained by fishery regu­lators to report the catch.

When the weather offshore deteriorated, the Apollo decided to seek shelter in Provincetown Harbor on Nov. 12. Rafael imme­diately set off in a truck to meet the boat.

“I wanted to sell the fish while it was fresh instead of letting it age on the boat,”he said.“It was a beautiful fish.”

It was also a lucrative one. Highly prized in Japan, a 754­pound specimen fetched a record price at a Tokyo auction in January this year, selling for nearly $396,000. These fish can grow to enormous size. The world record for a bluefin, which has stood since 1979, was set when a 1,496-pound specimen was caught off Nova Scotia.

However, when Rafael rolled down the dock in Provincetown there was an unexpected and unwelcome development. The authorities were waiting. Agents from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement informed him they were confis­cating his fish — all 881 pounds of it.

Even though the catch had been declared and the boat had a tuna permit, the rules do not allow fishermen to catch bluefin tuna in a net.

“They said it had to be caught with rod and reel,” a frustrated Rafael said.“We didn’t try to hide anything. We did everything by the book. Nobody ever told me we couldn’t catch it with a net.”

So, one way or another, the fish is dead. Apparently whatever the fed sells it for will be held in suspense until the situation is resolved. One assumes that someone buying numerous licenses to fish Tuna would be responsible to understand what the license covers, so I have no doubt it will resolve in the fed’s favor.

Still, it just seems like the feel-good stories are few and far between.


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