Sen. Cantwell visits Anacortes boat manufacturer

By:  Skagit Valley Herald – Mark Stayton (appeared in the Columbian)

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell visited boat manufacturer Dakota Creek Industries on Thursday afternoon for a tour and to watch construction on a vessel that could change the fishing industry.

Although construction has been slow going on the new 191-foot longline fishing vessel for Seattle-based Blue North Fisheries, the visit did allow Cantwell to see manufacturing workers on the job site, a healthy side effect of legislation passed in 2010 that changed the way Alaskan freezer longline fisheries operate.

"I feel like we're moving forward with the right strategy (for fisheries) and the right vessels," said Cantwell, D-Wash. "And it's going to help the local economy. There's a lot of manufacturing jobs, a lot of hard hats out there working on this project."

Dakota Creek Vice President Mike Nelson said when the project is fully underway, it will represent about 100 on-site positions.

The $36 million F/V Blue North is the third vessel commissioned in Pacific Northwest shipyards designed to take full advantage of the legislation.

Kenny Down, president and CEO of Blue North, said the legislation changed the fishery from a short-season "race" to catch a quota of fish as fast as possible to a cooperative among fishing companies.

Under the rules established in Senate Bill 1609, fishermen can take longer to catch their quota of fish, allowing for less risk-taking behavior among crews while wasting fewer fish.

"Were not going to catch more fish. We're going to do more with the fish we do catch," Down said.

The bill also provided companies like Down's the motive and means to invest in new, environmentally friendly ships.

The new ship uses a low-resistance, molded hull design and a high-tech diesel-electric propulsion system to achieve an estimated 30 percent fuel savings over conventional designs.

It will be the first ship built in the U.S. to have an internal haul station, where lines are brought in from the sea through an open shaft in the vessel's hull and up to a moon pool above the water line. The crew are kept inside -- rather than on dangerous open decks -- to sort and process caught fish.

Thanks to expanded processing equipment and freezer capacity, crews will be able to process into marketable products the fish stomach, heads and other bits that are now thrown overboard. Down said current vessels use about 47 percent of the fish caught, but the goal for the F/V Blue North is 100 percent usage.

Michael Burns, founder and co-owner of Blue North, said the new fisheries system also gives companies a better idea of what they might make in a year, which helps them secure bank financing to replace aging fleets.

Burns said about 30 percent of the current freezer longliner fleet are converted World War II vessels.

Nelson said the ship's metric measurements have provided challenges, and steel usually purchased in Portland is being brought up from the Southeast U.S. Even so, he plans to finish to ship by the first quarter of 2015.

"It's an exciting project. It's not an easy boat to build, but it's a great design and everything on it is cutting edge," Nelson said.