This week’s big federal budget bill left out a waiver that could have salvaged the fate of a new $75 million factory trawler built at an Anacortes shipyard.
A state-of-the-art $75 million factory trawler moored at an Anacortes dock is called “America’s Finest,” but that name could end up being a cruel irony for the shipyard and fishing company that hoped to put it to work.
The still-unfinished vessel is not allowed to dip a net in U.S. waters because the hull contains too much steel modified overseas. A congressional waiver to overcome that failed to make it into the $1.3 trillion spending bill signed Friday by President Donald Trump.
Mike Nelson, vice president of Dakota Creek Industries Anacortes, said the failure to gain an exemption was a major setback for his shipyard and Fishermen’s Finest, the Kirkland-based company that contracted to build the 264-foot vessel.
Now the shipyard and seafood company are considering a sale of the vessel to some other operator that could use it in foreign fisheries. That could mean a significant financial loss.
“We’re not giving up on congressional approval, but this is an option that we have to look at,” Nelson said in an interview.
Dennis Moran, president of Fishermen’s Finest, declined to comment. He told the trade publication National Fisherman that his company was “going to go ahead and list the boat for international sale.”
The ship was supposed to be ready last fall, and would be a major addition to the aging fleet of factory trawlers that scoop up bottom-dwelling fish. It would offer improved performance and safety while working in the perilous seas off Alaska.
But the vessel’s use of modified foreign steel put it in violation of the Jones Act, which requires that foreign-made steel parts be limited to 1.5 percent of the ship’s weight.
Steel parts bent and cut in Holland represent about 10 percent of the weight of America’s Finest. That resulted in the Jones Act violation, and prompted the lobbying to gain the waiver from Congress.
That effort soon got caught up in fishing-industry politics.
Fisherman’s Finest wanted the Washington and Alaska delegations to back a straightforward waiver. But other seafood companies, along with political allies in Alaska, wanted any waiver to include limits on how many fish the company could catch and process in its North Pacific operations.
In recent months, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, negotiated over the terms of an exemption.
They reached a tentative deal that included fishing restrictions proposed by Sullivan, according to a statement from Cantwell’s office.
But “ultimately language to remedy this situation was not included in the final bill negotiated by the respective House and Senate leadership,” said a statement released by Matt Shuckerow, deputy communications director for Sullivan.
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Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, has been a staunch supporter of the waiver. Larsen said in a statement that “the battle is not over, and we already are exploring the next legislative steps.”
The Jones Act violation has been a financial debacle for Dakota Creek Industries. During the 12-month period through February of this year, the company payroll shrank from 330 to 195 employees. On Friday, Nelson said there were more than a half-dozen further layoffs.
Nelson said using too much modified steel from Holland was a mistake, and not some sort of effort to get around the Jones Act rules.
He said the thought of this vessel unable to contribute to the U.S. fisheries “makes me sick to my stomach, along with all the guys here who worked so hard to build it.”