Loosening the lines: Will America’s Finest set sail or be cut adrift?

It’s been a long time coming, but the wait for Dakota Creek Industries and Fishermen’s Finest is nearly over. Thanks to bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate, 94-6, on Wednesday, Nov. 14,  the America’s Finest, a new 264-foot catcher-processor, should finally be able to go fishing in the Bering Sea. 
The Senate bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantrell, D-Wash., is primarily a Coast Guard reauthorization bill, but the legislation also includes a waiver that will finally grant official documentation to the disputed vessel. The waiver is necessary because the ship’s construction violated a Jones Act limitation on the amount of foreign-processed steel allowed. Dakota Creek had purchased the cold-rolled steel plate from a Dutch supplier in order to expedite the construction of the Norwegian-designed boat. 
The Coast Guard bill, and the waiver inside, must now be passed by the House of Representatives before being sent to the president for his signature. Given that the House has twice passed other legislation that includes a waiver for Dakota Creek and Fishermen’s Finest, the final approval is considered likely. 
The waiver includes restrictions that limit the volume of fish caught by other boats and processed by Fishermen’s Finest vessels, including America’s Finest. The waiver for America’s Finest had been opposed by competing processors who challenged this practice. The limitations will expire in six years or before if the North Pacific Fishery Management Council steps in and regulates the deliveries. 

America’s Finest was built at Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes, Wash., which also launched the state-of-the-art Norwegian-designed longliner Blue North in 2015. Skipsteknisk, a Norwegian naval architecture firm, designed both vessels, as well as the flatfish trawler Araho, built at Eastern Shipbuilding in Florida and launched in 2017.

The Norwegian hull designs require a steel-bending process that is easier to do overseas, where the technique and technology is more common. But that pushed the limits of the Jones Act requirement that vessels delivering goods or people between U.S. ports be made of 98.5 percent U.S. manufactured steel. Bending the raw sheets to shape is considered manufacturing. Upward of 10 percent of the America’s Finest hull was bent in Holland.

The Coast Guard has 30 days to investigate the boat and its construction — if any evidence of intentional Jones Act violation is found, the waiver can be dismissed.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Cantwell said the waiver “protects good shipbuilding jobs in Anacortes, Washington.” She also voiced strong support for the Jones Act, but said it was important “to save good family-wage jobs at Dakota Creek.”
The America’s Finest was originally scheduled for delivery about this time last year, but it has sat tied up at the shipyard, mostly completed, while lobbyists and politicians worked out a compromise. There had been speculation that the catcher-processor would have to be sold to a foreign buyer at a significant loss. 
Dakota Creek will likely soon complete sea trials for the America’s Finest and hand the boat over to Fishermen’s Finest.
Now it’s up to the House to pass a companion bill, which is not expected until after Thanksgiving.

About the author

Bruce Buls

Bruce Buls is the former technical editor for WorkBoat magazine.

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