america's finest

The fishing vessel America’s Finest, built for $75 million at the Dakota Creek shipyard, has been approved to fish in U.S. waters.

The U.S. Coast Guard has cleared the $75 million America’s Finest vessel to fish in U.S. waters, the final hurdle builder Dakota Creek Industries needed to move forward, according to a news release Thursday from U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen’s office.

The Coast Guard review found that Dakota Creek did not knowingly violate the Jones Act when it built the fishing vessel with too much foreign-modified steel, the release stated.

A waiver for the vessel, which forgives the shipbuilding mistake and allows it to fish in the U.S., was signed into law in December. The 30-day Coast Guard review was the last step.

The America’s Finest is a 264-foot state-of-the-art fishing trawler commissioned by Kirkland company Fishermen’s Finest for use in the Bering Sea.

For Dakota Creek, the news comes after several anxious years.

“It hasn’t sunk in,” Dakota Creek Vice President Mike Nelson said by phone Thursday afternoon. “I think we’re done as far as we can tell. It’s like there’s always been one thing around the corner, but I don’t think there is anymore.”

After more than a year-and-a-half of missed chances, a waiver was finally approved by both houses on Congress in November and was attached to the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018.

The uncertainty caused layoffs at the shipyard and raised questions about its future, but the company is hiring back and currently employs about 220, Nelson said. Upcoming projects, such as a $53 million Navy contract for four tugboats, is expected to increase payroll, he said.

Questions remain, however, on the impacts of fishing limitations attached to the waiver, which will affect all of Fishermen’s Finest ships and set catch limits on 53 different types of fish, Fishermen’s Finest President Dennis Moran told the Anacortes American on Thursday evening.

Those restrictions were added to the waiver at the urging of some Pacific Northwest fishing companies that are Fishermen’s Finest competitors.

The company will survive, but will end up having to throw dead fish overboard due to the new limits, he said.

“I don’t like throwing fish away. I don’t like wasting a resource,” Moran said. “I think it’s terrible that we are required to.”

Moran said the focus now will be to finish the boat and go to work.

“We will deal with the restrictions in a variety of ways,” Moran said. “That will just have to play itself out in the next year.”

The ship completed three days of sea trials last month and “performed fantastically,” he said. He expects final work to wrap up in the next couple of months.

“The big news is the waiver is through, and the shipyard is going to survive,” Moran said.

He said he has nothing but high regard for Dakota Creek and Nelson, despite the error that was costly for both companies.

“This project was on time, on budget — it’s still going to be the best ship in the country,” Moran said.

Both Larsen and Sen. Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, helped push a waiver through Congress.

“The Coast Guard worked hard to create a thorough report absolving Dakota Creek and giving the green light to the America’s Finest vessel,” Larsen said in the news release. “The employees at Dakota Creek support a job-creating industry that strengthens national defense and fosters innovation and contributes to the maritime economy in Washington state and Alaska. I am proud to be a part of giving the hard working employees at Dakota Creek a stronger future.”

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