Cantwell, Begich Hear from Local Fisherman on Need to Modernize Fishing Fleets

Upgraded vessels essential for better safety and more sustainable fishing

Seattle, WA – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Mark Begich (D-AK) visited Seattle and heard from local fishing leaders on the challenges and solutions to building a next generation fishing fleet.

The senators toured a freezer longliner under maintenance at Fishermen’s Terminal before holding a listening session at the Port of Seattle headquarters with Pacific Northwest fishing and shipbuilding industry leaders on the future competitiveness of the maritime economy.

Cantwell and Begich – both members of the Senate Oceans Subcommittee -- heard from fishing and shipbuilding leaders about the challenges they face in getting access to financing from banks to build and renovate fishing vessels. The ideas and testimony heard at today’s session will be discussed at an upcoming maritime economy hearing in the Senate Oceans Subcommittee. The ideas will also help to shape the upcoming Coast Guard Reauthorization bill expected to be introduced in 2014.

“In Washington and Alaska the fishing industry is a critical part of our economy,” said Cantwell, the former chair of the Oceans Subcommittee. “One of the challenges the industry faces is that many are using vessels from World War II as we saw today. The demands of fishing efficiency and modernization mean that they need to build new vessels. That kind of shipbuilding helps produce jobs, and it helps grow our economies in Washington and Alaska.”                                                                                                                      

“Our ports and shipyards are economic drivers for coastal communities throughout the Pacific Northwest and Alaska,” said Begich, chair of the Senate subcommittee on Oceans and Fisheries.  “The purpose of this listening session was to hear directly from shipbuilders, fishermen, shippers, port directors and labor about their needs. I look forward to taking what Sen. Cantwell and I have learned today back to Washington to encourage new vessel construction and boost jobs and economic development in our ports to address maritime industry needs.”

Today’s listening session comes on the heels of a new report compiled for the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County and the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County. The November 2013 study found that the maritime industry has a $30 billion economic impact in Washington state. Some 60 percent of the maritime revenue comes from the fishing industry. The maritime industry also directly and indirectly supports 148,000 jobs, including nearly 33,500 in the fishing industry. 

The report also found that shipbuilding, maintenance and repair supported nearly 30,000 jobs in 2012. From 2004 to 2009, direct shipbuilding and repair jobs across America grew by 12 percent. There are eight major shipyards and over 20 smaller yards in the Greater Seattle area alone. Across the state there are 2,090 maritime businesses – including 139 businesses employing 2,200 workers in Eastern Washington.

The senators were joined at today’s listening by:

  • Tom Albro, Port of Seattle Commission President
  • Stephen Sewell, Washington State Department of Commerce
  • Kenny Down, Blue North Fisheries
  • Kristian Uri, Fishermen’s Finest
  • Frank Foti, Vigor Shipyard
  • Doug Dixon, Pacific Fishermen Shipyard
  • Berit Eriksson, Sailors’ Union of the Pacific
  • John Parrott, Totem Ocean Trailer Express

As members of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Cantwell and Begich have worked to pass legislation that supports the growth of the Pacific Northwest’s maritime economy. The senators helped pass the Shark Conservation Act and the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2010 that created vessel replacement policies for the Groundfish Forum and the American Fisheries Act fleet.

Cantwell and Begich have also been leaders in highlighting the need for multiple icebreakers to increase the nation’s ability to maintain a presence in the fast-changing Arctic. They introduced a bipartisan amendment last month that would pave the way for construction of new Coast Guard heavy polar icebreakers. Language they inserted into the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2012 prevents the decommissioning and scrapping of the Polar Star’s currently inactive sister ship Polar Sea until a business case analysis is completed. 

Cantwell wrote legislation (S. 1609) signed into law in December 2010 that created a cooperative for the freezer longline fishery that eliminates the race for fish and enables companies to harvest more value from each catch. This helped spur investment in new state of the art fishing vessels designed for modern fishing industry needs like greater processing and storage capacity.