As a bottle of Champagne smashed over the bow of Alaskan Leader Fisheries’ new $30 million long-liner, some of the dignitaries leaning against the railing during the christening realized they’d gotten blue hands.

The paint on the bow, touched up by crew members just the night before, hadn’t even dried.

The Northern Leader was in top form for the hundreds who gathered Wednesday at Seattle’s Pier 91 to tour the boat and hear speeches from business partners and politicians before the big vessel leaves for Alaska waters in about a week.

Once there, it will drag more than 50 miles of line, with a baited hook about every 4 feet, to catch cod along the ocean floor.

At 1,600 tons, the boat is one of the largest long-liners in the world. With nearly 40,000 cubic feet of freezer space, it can bring back up to 1.7 million pounds of Alaskan cod per voyage.

The Northern Leader, built in Tacoma by J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding, is equipped with a unique fish-processing factory to clean, gut and freeze the fish, all in less than an hour after they are caught, said the ship’s captain, Shaun Andrew.

The cod’s trip through the hull from hook to freezer involves an intricate conveyor belt that would have made Henry Ford proud.

Keith Singleton, a marketing vice president for Alaskan Leader, narrated each step of the process as he led Gov. Jay Inslee and a few aides through the narrow passageways in the factory ship after the ceremony.

The 76,000 hooks are automatically baited and lowered into the water. When the line is reeled in, the fish are popped off their hooks, relieved of their heads and dropped into a “bleed bath,” which churns them in freezing-cold water for 20 minutes to remove the rest of the blood from their bodies.

Then, step by step, the fish are gutted by workers staffing a table at the end of the bath, weighed electronically, packaged, then sent down a chute where another crew member packs them into one of the ship’s cavernous freezers.

All this is performed by nine of the
23-member crew.

Using nearly every part of the fish is a point of pride, Singleton said.

Even the heads and guts, byproducts that have traditionally been thrown away, will be kept and sold.

The heads will be sent to Nigeria, where they are made into a traditional soup that is high in protein and can inexpensively feed families in a poorer region of the world.

The guts will become fertilizer or pet food.

The ship isn’t all slimy conveyor belts, though. Its cabin areas are comfortably sized, some with plush leather couches and flat-screen TVs.

It boasts an industrial-sized, restaurant-grade kitchen “a land chef would be proud to work in,” said John Richards, a sales manager for Galley Design and Sales, who helped design it.

These amenities are designed to keep up the crew’s morale, which can be crucial on a long fishing trip in Arctic temperatures.

Andrew, the ship’s captain, said launching the ship is especially gratifying in an industry full of “vintage, World War II-era boats” that aren’t as safe or high-quality.

“Being able to build something like this only happens so often,” he said.

Colin Campbell: 206-464-2033 or ccampbell@seattletimes.com