Jones Act waiver for America’s Finest clears US House, heads to Trump’s desk

Published on
November 28, 2018

The Jones Act waiver for America’s Finest is now heading to U.S. President Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, 27 November, the U.S. House of Representatives approved by voice vote the Coast Guard Authorization Act, concurring with the changes the U.S. Senate made in approving the bill two weeks ago.

The waiver, if the bill is signed into law by Trump, would allow Fishermen’s Finest to replace its two current fishing boats with America’s Finest, a 264-foot trawler-processor. However, the bill’s language allows for the U.S. Coast Guard to conduct a 30-day review to determine if any intentional violations of the Jones Act occurred. If the Coast Guard found any, the waiver could be pulled.

For now, though, Washington state elected officials are claiming victory. Not only does the waiver help Fishermen’s Finest, a Kirkland, Washington-based seafood processor, it also helps Anacortes, Washington-based shipbuilder Dakota Creek Industries, which built the USD 75 million (EUR 66.5 million) vessel.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Washington) said the waiver will protect hundreds jobs at the shipyard. 

“Dakota Creek is a key contributor to the regional economy and supports hundreds of local jobs,” said Larsen. “Securing a Jones Act solution for Dakota Creek Industries has been a long-fought battle.”

The waiver was needed after it was discovered Dakota Creek used too much foreign steel in the manufacturing of the vessel. The Jones Act limits the amount of foreign steel for boats used to deliver goods between U.S. ports.

Earlier in the year, Fishermen’s Finest openly acknowledged the possibility selling the boat at an apparent loss to a foreign buyer. Waivers for the America’s Finest had passed the House, but efforts stalled in the Senate.

Then, earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) announced the waiver was added to the Coast Guard bill.

In granting the waiver to Fishermen’s Finest, the bill would also limit the amount of fish America’s Finest can process for six years. In January, Frank Kelty, mayor of Unalaska, Alaska, wrote to the state’s Congressional delegation saying a waiver for America’s Finest could hurt processing businesses based at Dutch Harbor, the country’s top fishing port. 

Kelty’s letter called for sideboards to be placed on any Jones Act waiver granted to America’s Finest.

“Alaska’s fishery dependent communities depend on catcher vessesl deliveries to shorebased plants; they are the economic engine for Unalaska and other fishery dependent communities across this state,” Kelty wrote. Kelty’s letter asserted that the new processing vessel would deal a blow to the land-based processing facilities in Dutch Harbor, and was an advocate for the limitations placed along with the waiver. 

“I appreciate the coordination with Senator Cantwell, Senator [Dan] Sullivan [R-Alaska] and Rep. Don Young [R-Alaska] as we have worked non-stop to find avenues to save hundreds of jobs on the line,” Larsen said.

Photo courtesy of National Fisherman/Jeff Pond

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