Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

Welcome, Blue North


The oldest working longliner, the 1913-built halibut schooner Seymour, and the newest working longliner, the 2016-built Blue North, shared a moment at the latter's christening in Seattle on September 12th. Photo by Don Wilson, courtesy of the Port of Seattle.

Late last month, the much-awaited 191-foot freezer longliner Blue North was christened at Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal. The new ship, built at Anacortes, Washington-based Dakota Creek Industries and designed by Norwegian naval architecture firm Skipsteknisk, is unlike anything ever built for a US fishing company.

The Blue North is the company's first purpose-built bottom longline freezer/processor, and the first in the United States to have molded hull construction, a design that allows the vessel to travel more efficiently through the water because of decreased resistance.

The $36 million vessel is also the only freezer longliner in the Alaska fisheries with a fillet line, and includes safety features such as a climate controlled indoor working space to gaff each fish coming into an internal moon pool, from a line coming up through the bottom of the boat. The moon pool is a 5-foot diameter opening in the hull that allows the crew to retrieve the gear from inside the vessel.

Based in Seattle, Blue North Fisheries operates five freezer longliners in the bering sea and Gulf of Alaska and one smaller Seiner in Alaska, Washington and Oregon. Established in 1983, the company now harvests and sells more than 20,000 metric tons of fish and fish products each year.

The company is dedicated to sustainable practices, and Blue North President and CEO, Kenny Down says they spared no expense to include features on the new vessel that reduce environmental impact. "Not only are these practices more cost-effective, we believe that protecting our resources and environment is critical to the planet and the fishing industry."

Systems aboard the boat treat all waste, and recycle heat from engine cooling systems, to create potable water, hot water and to heat the ship. With that system, no wastewater is pumped back into the ocean, Down said.

He also noted that the fish are pulled from the moon pool then electrically stunned in order to reduce stress. The technique, known as humane harvest, eliminates pain and stress so the fish does not release hormones or adrenalin. Fish processed this way allow the company to deliver a much higher quality product to the consumer.

Company founder and chairman Michael Burns spoke of the company's humble beginnings in 1979, when he and his brother, Blue North Vice President Patrick Burns, bought an old wood Chesapeake Bay oyster buy boat that was laid up in a slough in Longview, Washington, converted it to a longliner and fished it in the Gulf of Alaska. In 1983 they bought their second boat, the 86-foot power scow Seldovia. They tendered salmon and herring from Ketchikan to Nome. Rapidly building their fleet of tenders to 5 vessels , the brothers started in the bering sea crab Fisheries in the early 90's.

By 2005, they had a fleet of five crabber/tenders, one crab catcher processor boat, and seven longliners as well as a vessel that worked for the tuna canneries in American Samoa.

Father Tony Haycock, who as a youth worked on fishing boats off the rugged Irish coast, delivered the blessing to the new vessel, and finished by singing a verse from his traditional sea shanty "Home From the Sea." Photo by Don Wilson, courtesy of the Port of Seattle.

Kenny Down spoke of his grandfather's migration to Washington from a farm in Montana. Looking for work on the waterfront, the young man was hired on as an engineer and spent the rest of his life on the water, including many years on the steamer Iroquois. Before the Iroquois was scrapped, Down salvaged the ship's horn, which sounded three long blasts after the christening: as Patrick Burns noted, "the first for good sailing, the second for good fishing and the third for Godspeed."

Blue North was christened not with the traditional bottle of champagne, but rather a bottle of "good Irish whiskey" in honor of the Burns brothers, born and raised in Syracuse, New York, and their Irish heritage. The blessing was delivered by another Irishman, Father Tony Haycock, of St. Mary's Parish. "Father Tony" is well known and much respected in the Seattle maritime community, and the longtime driving force behind the Seattle Catholic Seamen's Center. After the blessing, he walked along the dock and sprinkled the new vessel with holy water- a true Catholic christening.

During the presentations, as if to underline the company's environmental stewardship, an osprey with a freshly caught fish flew to and perched on the mast of the new vessel, in an apparent endorsement of the North Pacific's newest fish catcher.


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