Dakota Creek Industries violated the Jones Act when it used too much foreign-fabricated steel in building the factory trawler America’s Finest, but the company did not knowingly break the law, the U.S. Coast Guard said in upholding a waiver for the vessel to operate in U.S. waters.
In November, Congress included the waiver in the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018, which was signed into law by President Trump in early December. The Coast Guard then conducted a 30-day review that concluded in early January.
“As directed by Section 835 (of the act), the Guard conducted a review to determine whether the shipyard that constructed America’s Finest or its purchaser (Fishermen’s Finest) knew whether components of the vessel violated Jones Act requirements under 46 U.S. Code Sections 12112 and 12113,” said Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Amy Midgett. “The Coast Guard completed the review and determined that neither the shipyard nor the purchaser knew before the components were procured, or before installation had commenced, that usage would violate statutory requirements.”
Last spring, Dakota Creek acknowledged that as much as 10 percent of the vessel’s steel was bent in Holland, violating the Jones Act’s limit on content to 1.5 percent of foreign steel weight. The now-certified waiver forgives Dakota Creek for what it claims was a mistake.
The 262-foot America’s Finest embarked on its first sea trial for three days in early December, setting sail from Dakota Creek’s yard in Anacortes, Wash. Owner Fishermen’s Finest is based in Kirkland, Wash.
Because it contains more foreign steel than allowed, the $75 million boat sat for a year at dock and looked as if it would have to be sold at a loss to a foreign buyer. Dakota Creek laid off nearly half of its staff because of its transgression. The company is hiring in the new year, however, and had about 220 workers in early January.
The yard’s congressional delegation helped get the waiver approved. After the Senate passed the Coast Guard Authorization Act on Nov. 14, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said that the bipartisan deal protected good, family-wage jobs in Anacortes.
“I’m a very strong supporter of the Jones Act and believe it’s important that we continue to have the act,” she said on the Senate floor, thanking her colleagues for their assistance.
On Dec. 3, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., met with staff at Dakota Creek and focused on the yard’s contributions to the regional economy.
Anacortes Mayor Laurie Gere supported the Jones Act waiver. But civic leaders in Dutch Harbor/Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands have been vocal about restricting the new trawler’s activities. Alaska’s onshore processors fear losses because of the new vessel, which is intended to replace the Fishermen’s Finest boat American No. 1.
“As noted in Section 836 of the CGAA of 2018, Congress has placed a number of temporary catch limitations on America’s Finest,” Midgett said. Catch limits for more than 50 species of fish have been imposed on the vessel and two other Fishermen’s Finest ships for six years.
According to Dakota Creek, America’s Finest was built to catch white fish and groundfish — including yellowfin sole and rock sole — and to process and freeze them at sea. The vessel, with berths for 49 mariners, is expected to work mainly in the Bering Sea.