Almost as soon as the profanity-hurling fisherman sporting an electronic bracelet sauntered into the fish auction, Brendan Borrell knew he was seeing the Codfather. In his piece for Hakai Magazine, Borrell dives into the murky waters around Carlos Rafael, the 65-year-old he describes as "the most powerful man" in New Bedford, Mass, the most lucrative fishing port in the US. Rafael's fishing empire, said to be worth around $100 million, controls about 20% of New England's cod quota, all the more compelling considering that Borrell is out on $2 million bail as he prepares to face charges of lying to the government about catching hundreds of tons of fish, then allegedly trying to smuggle them into Portugal. Borrell places Rafael's story in context by first detailing his emigration from Portugal to America at the age of 15, starting out as a novice fish-cutter along Massachusetts' shores.
Rafael eventually started the successful Carlos Seafood, where "tell him he can go f--- himself, the fish is fine" can be a standard reply to unhappy customers. Rafael's self-described "wheelin' and dealin'" at auctions, accumulating fishing violations, and exploiting a catch-shares management system for fishermen became his MO, with one exec saying his unsavory tactics have given the industry a "big, fat black eye." But Borrell wonders if "any law-abiding fishermen can profit under current regulations," which have made the fishing industry challenging. A local paper, though, notes the industry "will be stronger, more stable, and more sustainable without Mr. Rafael's corrupting influence" if he goes to prison. Rafael might just shrug that off. "I am a pirate," Rafael once said to regulators. "It's your job to catch me." More on Rafael's whale of a tale. (Read more Longform stories.)