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Unalaska business owner denounces city position on trawler

February 9th 7:14 pm | Jim Paulin Print this article   Email this article  

The mothershippers are fighting back with the help of a local proxy in a politicized commercial fishing tussle reaching all the way to Washington, D.C.

The latest round of the inshore-offshore battle between Fisherman's Finest's cod factory trawlers, onshore seafood processors, and a local government, is taking on the familiar feel of the vintage pollock war. An Unalaska business owner is denouncing a city position calling for restrictions on the beleaguered vessel America's Finest, a brand new vessel stranded in an Courtesan, Wash., shipyard since it ran afoul of the federal Jones Act by exceeding the legal limits of foreign steel in its hull.

Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty, with the city council's approval, sent the state's congressional delegation a letter urging "sideboard" restrictions which would keep the America's Finest from receiving at-sea deliveries of Pacific cod from catcher vessels. Kelty said he expected the ship would receive a Jones Act waiver allowing it to fish in U.S. waters, but hoped any waiver would come with cod restrictions.

"Alaska's fishery-dependent communities depend on catcher vessel deliveries to shoreplants," Kelty wrote.

During the pollock battles of the 1990s, the onshore and offshore sectors would encourage their various vendors and contractors to provide lobbying support. The pollock inshore-offshore battles ended with the passage of the American Fisheries Act, which established permanent quotas for the various sectors.

In a case of history repeating itself, one of Fisherman's Finest's local contractors is stepping up to the plate for the company.

Mark Horn, owner of Sundance Stevedoring, said the company is a major customer of his cargo handling business. Horn said he's spent $250,000 on new equipment to offload the state-of-the-art vessel. He views the restrictions sought by Kelty as part of an attempt to stifle competition by the big processing companies.

During the city council discussion, Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson urged the denial of any waiver, saying the Jones Act protects communities. Horn said the community of Anacortes stands to lose big, if the Dakota Creek shipyard fails and the vessel can't fish in the U.S. In that event, industry observers see it sold to Russia, at a loss.

Horn said he's been lobbying Congress in support of the America's Finest, and said he spent an hour on the phone making his case to U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.

Fisherman's Finest owns two factory trawlers, U.S. Intrepid and the aging American No. 1, which the America's Finest is intended to replace, according to the company, which complains that Trident Seafood is in a weak position to criticized Jones Act waivers.

Both the company and Horn said Trident's yacht, the Annandale, received a Jones Act waiver. The company calls the pleasure craft a "lobbying vessel."

The same proposed sideboard restrictions are also under consideration by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, favored by shoreplants opposed to Amendment 80 factory trawlers serving as cod motherships.

The city opposes a loss of local fish tax revenues from offshore cod processing. Kelty is also angry about Fisherman's Finest's efforts to repeal the state's resource landing tax, a 3 percent tax imposed on factory trawlers and split between the state and local governments.

"This tax has been very important to communities such as Unalaska that are impacted by the offshore fleet's use of area jobs, roads, docks, airports, clinic and jails," Kelty said in the letter to Sen. Sullivan, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and U.S. Rep. Don Young.

Jim Paulin can be reached at jpaulin@reportalaska.com.

 

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