A Massachusetts fisherman pulled in an 881-pound tuna this week only to have the federal authorities take it away. It sounds like a libertarian twist on the classic novella by Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, but for Carlos Rafael, the saga is completely true.
Rafael and his crew were using nets to catch bottom-dwellers when they inadvertently snagged the giant tuna. However, federal fishery enforcement agents took control of the behemoth when the boat returned to port. The reason for the seizure was procedural: While Rafael had the appropriate permits, fishermen are only allowed to catch tuna with a rod and reel.
It would seem that unlike the fictional New England shark hunters in Jaws, Rafael didn't need a bigger boat, just a better permit.
In an interview with the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Rafael disputes the claims from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) enforcement division that the humungous tuna was trawled from the bottom of the Atlantic. They didn't catch that fish on the bottom," he said. "They probably got it in the mid-water when they were setting out and it just got corralled in the net. That only happens once in a blue moon."
And while Rafael is denied the mother of all fish stories, the federal impoundment of his catch also means he's probably losing out on a giant payday. A 754-pound tuna recently sold for nearly $396,000. NOAA regulators will not share any of the proceeds in the fish's eventual sale with a fisherman found in violation of the federal rules.
"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."
Rafael says he has meticulously prepared for a giant catch like this, purchasing 15 tuna permits over the past four years for his groundfish boats. He even immediately called a "bluefin tuna hot line" (yes, such things exist) to report his catch. "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."
Proceeds of the sale from the fish will be held in an account until the case is resolved, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Law Enforcement. "The matter is still under investigation," said Monica Allen, deputy director with NOAA Fisheries public affairs. "If it's determined that there has been a violation, the money will go into the asset forfeiture fund."
Watch Rafael explain what happened below.
Article written by Eric Pfeiffer
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