Northwest Shipbuilders Expect a Boost from Coast Guard Bill

By Steve Wilhelm, Puget Sound Business Journal – December 23, 2012

Puget Sound-area shipyards got an early Christmas present on Dec. 23, when President Barack Obama signed into law a bill that should generate millions of dollars of work building large boats for the groundfish industry.

The boon to shipyards has been little noted in the bill, which is formally called the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012. The bill also saved an icebreaker and initiated a new study on oil-spill risks.

But for local shipyards, the bill’s most important provision prohibits the pollock fleet from catching flatfish, rockfish and atka mackerel in the so-called “Amendment 80” sector. Amendment 80 created a quota process for catching bottomfish other than pollock.

With the pollock fleet restricted to catching pollock, owners of Amendment 80 vessels can now buy new boats and replace the aging fleet of 27 catcher processors in the non-pollock sector, said Lori Swanson, executive director of the Groundfish Forum. The group represents five companies chasing fish other than pollock.

Bryan Nichols, sales manager at Seattle’s Vigor Shipyard, said the ratification of the Coast Guard bill promises new work by removing the uncertainty that stalled investment in new ships. He expects to be bidding on jobs next year.

“They can actually build them now, which is big.” he said. “Before, when they were looking at designs, they were in anticipation of this law passing.”