Mother Jones

The Codfather

New England’s seafood industry is in deep trouble—thanks in no small part to one mogul’s seriously fishy business.
Part of Carlos Rafael’s fleet in New Bedford, Massachusetts

The fake Russians met the Codfather on June 3, 2015, at an inconspicuous warehouse on South Front Street in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The Codfather’s lair is a green and white building with a peaked roof, fishing gear strewn across a fenced-in backyard, and the words “Carlos Seafood” stamped above the door. The distant gray line of the Atlantic Ocean is visible behind a towering garbage heap. In the 19th century, New Bedford’s sons voyaged aboard triple-masted ships in pursuit of sperm whales; now they chase cod, haddock, and scallops. Every year, more than $350 million worth of seafood passes through this waterfront, a significant slice of which is controlled by the Codfather, the most powerful fisherman in America’s most valuable seafood port.

“The Codfather” is the local media’s nickname for Carlos Rafael, a stocky mogul with drooping jowls, a smooth pate, and a backstory co-scripted by Horatio Alger and Machiavelli. He was born in the Azores, a chain of Portuguese islands scattered in the Atlantic. As a teenager in 1968, he emigrated to New Bedford, where he later took a job in a fish-processing plant. (More than a third of New Bedford’s residents have Portuguese ancestors; many can trace their heritage back to the days when Yankee whalers picked up crew members from the Azores during trans-Atlantic voyages.) Rafael rose to foreman at a seafood distribution facility and later founded his own company. He bought his first boat in 1981, and then another and another, until he owned more than 40 vessels, many christened with Hellenic names—the Athena, the Poseidon, the Hera. Local newspapers hung on his pronouncements, dubbing him the “Waterfront Wizard” and the “Oracle of the Ocean.”

The Codfather also ran afoul of the law. In the 1980s he was sentenced to six months in prison for tax evasion, and in 1994 he was indicted—and acquitted—for price-fixing. In 2011, federal agents confiscated an 881-pound tuna that had been illegally netted aboard his Apollo. “I am a pirate,” he once told regulators. “It’s your job to catch me.” Law-abiding rivals resented him and grudgingly

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Mother Jones

Mother Jones21 min readPolitics
In The Ruins Of Raqqa
“WHAT’S UP WITH THE CAMERA?” asks the wild-looking American special forces operative standing outside my car window. He has a sculpted beard, angry eyes, huge tattooed arms, and an M16 slung across his chest. I’ve just entered Raqqa, and his large wh
Mother Jones6 min readPolitics
Corruption Isn’t Just Another Scandal. It’s The Rot At The Core.
THERE’S AN INFAMOUS SAYING often attributed to Josef Stalin: One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. In the Trump administration, you might say: One scandal is an outrage, a million scandals is the new normal. That’s something we’re
Mother Jones14 min readScience
Weight Of The World
ON ELECTION NIGHT 2016, Kim Cobb, a professor at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, was on Christmas Island, the world’s largest ring-shaped coral reef atoll, about 1,300 miles south of Hawaii. A climate scientist, she was