'Codfather' captain fined for illegal nets

Staff file photoThomas D. Simpson, a former captain of the fishing vessel Bulldog, shown while in Gloucester, has been fined $15,000 and will be on probation for two years for interfering with a Coast Guard inspection of the vessel in 2014.

The fallout from Carlos “The Codfather” Rafael’s malfeasance and his crippling of the New Bedford groundfish fleet continues apace.

One of Rafael’s former captains, 57-year-old Thomas D. Simpson, was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Boston to two years probation — the first four months to be served as home confinement with electronic monitoring — and fined $15,000 for interfering with a Coast Guard inspection in 2014.

Simpson, of South Portland, Maine, pleaded guilty in September to one count of destruction or removal of property subject to seizure and inspection related to the purposeful sinking of his vessel’s net to avoid inspection.

“Mr. Simpson’s conduct was careless and dangerous,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “When he ordered the nets cut loose rather than simply reeled in, the steel cables securing the net swung violently across the boat, endangering not only the Coast Guard boarding team, but Simpson’s own crew.”

According to court documents, Simpson was captaining the F/V Bulldog on May 31, 2014, when the Coast Guard boarded the 75-foot vessel “to perform a routine inspection” of the Bulldog and its gear.

“At the time of the boarding, the Bulldog’s net was deployed in the water and the crew was actively fishing,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement announcing the sentencing. “The USCG boarding officer encountered Simpson in the Bulldog’s wheelhouse and instructed Simpson to haul in the fishing net for inspection.”

The Coast Guard said Simpson activated the electric winch that controls the cables and net, but released more cable rather than hauling it in.

“When the USCG boarding officer realized that Simpson was letting the net out, he instructed  Simpson to stop and haul the net in,” the U.S. attorney’s office stated. “Simpson ignored the order and continued to let out cable until the net became detached from the Bulldog and sank.”

The Coast Guard and NOAA Fisheries later spent about $15,000 to salvage the net from the ocean floor and they did not like what they found.

“An inspection of the net revealed that it had three distinct and separate layers of netting in violation of commercial fishing regulations,” the U.S. attorney’s office said. “When two or more fishing nets are placed on top of each other, the size of the openings are reduced. The reduced-size net openings hinder younger, smaller fish from being able to escape the net.”

Simpson is one of the 22 former Rafael captains named in a revised non-criminal charging document filed by NOAA in September — up from the two captains named in the original charging document. NOAA said it also will seek to revoke the operator permits for 17 of the 22 Rafael captains named in the superseding charging document. It is unclear if Simpson is one of those captains.

Simpson, according to the superseding charging document, was hit with five counts of groundfish species misreporting and two counts each for gear, observer and restricted-area violations.

The Bulldog is one of two forfeited vessels the federal court last week said it would release from seizure.

The Bulldog will be released to B & D Fishing Corp. and Conceicao Rafael, Carlos Rafael’s wife.

The other fishing vessel released from seizure is the 81-foot Southern Crusader II, which will be released to R and C Fishing Corp. The corporation, according to court documents, includes Conceicao Rafael and Joao Camarao as owners.

Rafael is serving nearly two years in prison for violating fishing regulations.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.