Alaskan Groundfish Jones Act

The Coast Guard has been asked by an Alaskan groundfish companies to investigate how the shipbuilder Dakota Creek constructed a vessel, America’s Finest, without complying with the Jones Act. The Coast Guard is responsible for the certification of vessels as well as being compliant with the Jones Act requirements that a vessel be built in the United States if it is going to be used in the navigable waters of the U.S.  The vessel was built for the fishing company Fishermen’s Finest, and 1.5 percent of the steel used was not fabricated in the United States.  Therefore, it cannot be used for fishing in the waters of the U.S.

Dakota Creek it attempting to get a congressional waiver to allow the vessel to work in U.S. waters, but if they cannot they would be forced to sell the vessel to a foreign entity and the company will lose a good deal of money. Waivers are not necessarily easy to obtain. Dakota Creek’s waiver was passed in the House of Representatives, but industry groups in Alaska believe that there is more information necessary for Congress to make informed decisions. The Pacific Seafood Processors Association (PSPA) and United Catcher Boats (UCB) have requested an independent investigation. PSPA is opposed to the waiver if there is no investigation into how the noncompliance occurred. They believe that using steel fabricated outside the U.S. will give any company fishing in Alaska a financial advantage over companies that comply with the Jones Act.

The groups opposed the waiver state that they want to keep the playing field level and that all vessels should be Jones Act compliant to maintain fairness among the fishing companies.  They have also noted that this waiver has very general language, which if granted, could mean America’s Finest will not have to comply with the Act in any way. They would prefer if the waiver were tailored to address only the problem of the foreign steel. Finally, there are concerns about how the steel was included in the building of the vessel and how all the companies involved in building America’s Finest did not notice the error.  No investigation has begun, but the Coast Guard has responded to Congressional requests for information.

Dakota Creek has built over 60 vessels for the United States Navy and for others, including Alaskan fishing companies, which comply with the Act. With that much experience, it would seem odd that they did not notice how much of the steel in the hull was made and fashioned in Holland. They claim they were mistaken about whether they could have the hull’s steel plates cut and bent in Holland because most of the work on the plates would happen in the U.S.  Only 1.5 percent of a vessel’s steel weight can be made with parts that were in some way processed outside the U.S.  Dakota Creek’s vessel is almost complete and when they realized the error, they reported it themselves in the hopes of obtaining the waiver.

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