The bidding starts early at the seafood auction in Gloucester, Mass. Each day about 30 tons of fish—mostly cod, haddock, and flounder—come in by boat on Cape Ann, a fist jutting into the Atlantic Ocean. Fishermen motor up to the concrete docks behind the beige-and-white warehouse, then wait while workers in rubber boots hoist their catches and weigh them out on a stainless-steel digital scale. At 4 a.m. grocery store buyers, restaurant owners, and distributors file in to inspect and bid on the haul.
The traders and graders were wrapping up their business just after 9 a.m. on Dec. 7, 2006, when 16 federal agents in Crown Victorias and Ford Expeditions pulled into the parking lot. They entered the building in pairs. Although most of them worked for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they wore bulletproof vests and carried Glock pistols.