Written by Jen Finn
Massachusetts fleet owner teams up with an Alabama boatyard seven times
By Larry Chowning
For years, Gulf of Mexico shrimpers have come to the southwest corner of Alabama, in the area around Bayou La Batre and Coden to have their boats built, first wooden boats and then steel.
Now, even though shrimping is in a slump, the reputations of the area's boatbuilders still draw customers wanting to build new or convert the old, though many of the boats go to fishermen outside of the gulf. Williams Fabrication in Coden is one boatyard that has adapted to the changing times.
Owner and founder Dale Williams has found a niche building steel scallopers as well as combination scallop and longlining boats for Mid-Atlantic and New England fishermen. Some of these fishermen have come back for more, which is surely the sign of a successful boatyard.
Fleet Fisheries of New Bedford, Mass., is one of those repeat customers. In late March, a 90-foot scalloper and longliner was nearly ready for sea trials, and work was about to begin on another boat, a 102-foot scalloper, for Lars and Virginia Vinjerud, owners of Fleet Fisheries. They will be the sixth and seventh boats Williams Fabrication has built or converted for Fleet Fisheries.
Lars Vinjerud and Williams met in 2001 when Vinjerud was searching for a boatyard to build him a scalloper. He had interviewed three builders before meeting Williams. Obviously, the two hit it off, as Vinjerud has come back to Coden for another and another.
Vinjerud has spent most of his life in the commercial fishing business, starting in Alaska as a 15-year-old deckhand. The Vinjeruds have mostly been involved with catching and wholesaling fish, but this December they opened a retail fish store, Fisherman's Market, right off their processing plant in New Bedford.
The market is separated from the processing plant by clear paneling, so customers can watch the fresh fish being processed — fish they might end up buying.
Most of the seafood at the market comes off the Vinjeruds' fleet of 15 boats that fish in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
This type of market diversification requires a diverse fishing fleet that's not strapped to one fishery. Fleet Fisheries' boats go after scallops, lobster, shrimp, swordfish and tuna. Several of the 15 boats are rigged to go after more than one species.
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