No Winners Here
June 1, 2018
In late 2014 Seattle-based Fisherman’s Finest announced an exciting new project. The company had ordered what would be the first trawler built in the US since 1989. Designed by a Norwegian firm, the 264-foot vessel would be built at Dakota Creek shipyard, in Anacortes – a yard known for its attention to detail and craftsmanship, and respected among its peers for more than 40 years.
Fast-forward to 2017, and the delivery of the almost-complete America’s Finest has been delayed indefinitely due to an error at the shipyard that brought the project to a halt. Some of the steel used in the construction of the vessel was formed outside of the US, putting the vessel in violation of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, more commonly known as the Jones Act, which requires that vessels moving cargo between US ports be US built, flagged and crewed.
The mistake is a difficult one to resolve. US-built vessels are considerably more expensive than foreign-built boats, and the country’s fishing fleet has paid a large premium in order to fish in our waters. Once aware of the problem, Dakota Creek began working with the state’s Congressional delegation to allow a one-time waiver of the relevant portion of the Jones Act, enabling delivery of the vessel.
Some competitors of Fisherman’s Finest have said that granting an exception to enable this non-Jones Act-compliant vessel to fish among law-abiding boats would give the company an unfair advantage. By the same token, industry is united in its respect for Dakota Creek, which is considered one of the finest shipyards in the US.
In a recent letter to the Wall Street Journal, Dakota Creek President Mike Nelson says “It would be wrong to assume that because Dakota Creek is seeking a waiver for a technical issue regarding a part of the Jones Act, that we do not fully support the Jones Act and what it stands for. Dakota Creek and the greater Anacortes community have benefitted economically from shipbuilding activity under the Jones Act.”
If the new vessel is not allowed to fish in US waters, Dakota Creek and its employees face an uncertain future.
Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, who represents Dakota Creek and its employees, worked with other West Coast lawmakers to insert a waiver into the most recent US Coast Guard reauthorization bill, which could have saved the boat, and therefore the yard. Also included in the bill was a bipartisan provision to streamline ballast water provisions at the federal level. The provision would have made ballast water regulations easier to follow, and Maria Cantwell was urged in a letter to vote for this measure by none other than the director of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.
But the ballast water language was opposed by the loudest environmental voices in Washington State. Senator Cantwell yielded to this activist pressure and instead opposed the Coast Guard bill she had earlier championed, as did Washington’s Senior Senator Patty Murray.
“We have accommodated, I think, every request that the senator from Washington has made on this bill,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, South Dakota Republican John Thune. “We have involved her in all these discussion and my understanding was as a result of that consultation and those discussions was that she was going to be a vote in favor of the bill.”
Cantwell “flip-flopped under partisan pressure” according to Senate leader Mitch McConnell. “In a dangerous world, the brave men and women of the Coast Guard are always ready for the call, whether it be to interdict drugs, secure our ports or conduct daring maritime rescues,” he said in a statement on the floor of the Senate. “They deserve our support – they don’t deserve a filibuster for the sake of political posturing.”
Dakota Creek and its employees were counting on her support, too.
Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email: email@example.com