Massive fish fraud results in huge penalty for fishermen

A fisherman unloaded a basket full of fish last spring off a boat owned by Carlos Rafael. –Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

In an unprecedented punishment, federal regulators Monday ordered scores of commercial fishermen in Massachusetts to return their vessels to shore after the owner of many of the boats, a New Bedford fishing mogul known as “The Codfather,’’ failed to account for the fish they caught and orchestrated a massive fraud.

The move immediately prohibits 60 permit holders and 22 active vessels from going back to sea until at least the start of the new fishing season in May.

Most of the vessels were operated by Carlos Rafael, the magnate who was recently convicted of one of the nation’s largest violations of fishing regulations.