PME: Fleet upgrades could be boon for Pacific Northwest economy

The fishing fleet in the Pacific Northwest is increasingly in need of modernization, and the potential economic opportunity of a revitalization of the fleet is estimated to worth billions of dollars, according to a new report released by the Washington Maritime Federation and the Port of Seattle at the 2016 Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle, Washington, on Friday, 18 November.

Replacing aging boats with new ones, or renovating them with technological upgrades, could be of great financial benefit to the fishing industry and the auxiliary companies that service it, according to Mark Gleason, the director of the Washington Maritime Federation.

“There have been really very few new boats put into service in last 30 to35 years. With a couple of one-off exceptions, there hasn’t been a concerted effort to modernize the fleet,” Gleason said. “Through the study we commissioned, we sought to gain a better understanding of the economic opportunity that modernization might present, in real terms, while also getting a better idea of what the constraints are that might inhibit that effort.”

Prepared by the McDowell Group, an Alaska-based consulting firm, the study, “Modernization of the North Pacific Fishing Fleet: An Economic Opportunity Analysis,” found the pace of modernization is projected to grow significantly in the next decade, with an estimated four new vessel projects expected annually for every year between 2017 and 2026 in the North Pacific fleet alone, with an approximate total value of USD 1.6 billion (EUR 1.5 billion).

That effort is already underway, with Global Seas recently investing in the Defender, a catcher vessel, and Blue North building a new flagship freezer longline vessel. Both ships are equipped with cutting-edge technology Gleason said will offset upfront costs in downstream savings and new processes designed to raise the value of its catch.

“Besides efficiency gains, which are sizeable, these vessels can also do things like value-added processing, turning former waste streams into profit-drivers,” he said. 

As an example, Gleason points to the Blue North’s ability to process the cod it catches more efficiently, capturing more saleable product and producing less waste. With its Humane Harvest technology, Blue North is seeking to open a new market for “humanely produced seafood” – a concept Gleason likens to grass-fed beef or cage-free chickens.

“It’s a noble and potentially lucrative idea, and Blue North is obviously well-positioned to take advantage of it,” Gleason said.

Gleason also brought attention to America's Finest, being built by the Dakota Creek shipyard in Anacortes, Washington. Gleason called the America's Finest, which is being built to be carbon neutral, “the most environmentally sensitive catching processor ever built."

“No one’s ever talked about that in the fishing industry before,” he said. “There are some truly revolutionary ideas coming to fruition.”

Not every fishing company will be able to afford to build an entirely new boat, Gleason acknowledged. But even relatively small investments in upgrades – like increasing a boat’s fuel efficiency, or upgrading its fish-finding technology, can result in huge savings in fuel costs and through spending fewer days at sea, he said.

Financing is still a significant impediment to the effort of fleet modernization in the U.S., but Gleason said the study also includes recommendations likely to be acted upon by the Port of Seattle and lenders to the maritime trade to ease the granting of credit for such projects. Those include loan guarantees and reduced mooring rates for vessels constructed or modified in the Port of Seattle, and better engagement with the banking industry to improve its overall understanding of the financial model the industry operates from.

In spite of the impediments standing in the way of modernization, in the next 10 years, the study estimates 37 new vessel projects will be started. The economic impact of the buildout will have an outsized impact on the state of Washington, where an estimated 50 percent of those projects will occur, with spending on those projects projected at USD 60 and 90 million (EUR 56.5 and 84.6 million million) annually, totally approximately USD 785 million (EUR 738 million) through 2026.

Gleason said the economic benefits will come to Washington because of the good health of the regional fisheries as a result of responsible management and fishing practices.

“Nobody is putting this level of capital into fisheries anywhere in the country. It shows the confidence fishing companies have in the biomass and management structure, in the short- and long-term,” he said. 


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