Updates from maritime experts on North Pacific shipbuilding and fisheries

By: Maggie Wilson Posted: 03/15/2019

Recap from Chamber’s March Alaska Business Forum

Photos within by James Nguyen

The fishing and shipbuilding industries are crucial contributors to the success of Alaska’s economy and also significantly impact Washington state. At the Chamber’s latest Alaska Business Forum, attendees heard from maritime experts who shared updated industry data and discussed the two sectors.

The first speaker, Chad See, Executive Director of the Freezer Longline Coalition, provided a snapshot of the North Pacific fishing fleet, which consists of 414 federally permitted vessels over 58 feet with an average age of 40 years. He noted the importance of Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal, which has served as the homeport for the North Pacific fleet for 100 years.

When it comes to modernizing the fleet, it’s not a question of ‘if,’ he said, rather, it’s how industry leaders can accelerate modernization. Some work is already underway, and has a range of benefits, from improving safety, sustainability, and profitability of the ships to generating work for Washington's shipyards.  

See cited a 2017 economic impact study done by the McDowell group that found that Alaska’s seafood industry has a significant national impact, creating 99,000 jobs paying $5.2 billion and generating $12.8 billion in total economic output. In Washington, the seafood industry supports 15,000 jobs paying $1 billion annually in wages.

 A key to the success of the seafood industry, See said, is sustainability. He talked about how the warming climate and sea temperatures have resulted in cod moving north in the Bering Sea, and how such change adds to growing uncertainty about long-term species habitation and best fishing practices. Cooperative research between industries will help ensure there is understanding around where cod, crab, and other stock is, so that planning is effective and environmentally sound.

Our second speaker, Ephraim Froehlich, Principal of AKWA-DC LLC, introduced himself and his background as a policy staffer in D.C. Born and raised in Juneau, Froehlich returned himself and family to Alaska after his work in D.C. and then relocated again, now living in Seattle.

Froehlich touched on public policies that impact fisheries and shipbuilding from the federal perspective.

He also provided a list of key related financing programs:

  • The Fisheries Finance Program
  • The Capital Construction Fund Program
  • Funding through the Small Business Administration
  • Funding through the Maritime Administration
  • Funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • The farm credit

Froehlich dove into details of the fisheries finance program and pending rulemaking. He encouraged attendees to use their voice as constituents and push government leaders for regulatory certainty. He noted that when industry leaders advocate for policy change to governing bodies as one unified voice instead of as silos, for instance through a unified message from the Seattle Metro Chamber, that political effort is more likely to be successful.

Keith Whittemore, Executive Vice President of Business Development at Vigor, was our final speaker. “I’m the boat guy,” he said, introducing himself.

Whittemore touched on how competitive the fishing industry is. To be successful as a commercial fishing company, you have to be, which can be expensive and a barrier to partnership.

Vigor has yards all over the West Coast, Whittemore said, and their goal is both to service the North Pacific fleet in their shipyards and production runs of new vessels.

Fishing boats are built because of opportunities, he said, highlighting “King Crab Bonanza” construction.

Whittemore presented a slideshow of vessels, showing conversions and new designs. While he called some conversions“ugly,” he showed attendees one vessel that he considers an exemplary success story: the Starbound. The Starbound was built at Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes. They cut the boat in half and built a new midsection. The vessel was on time, on budget and it works.

“There’s business going on, it’s challenging, and we all have to be smart and work together,” Whittemore concluded.

Want to learn more? Come to the next Alaska Business Forum. The Alaska Business Forum helps build relationships in the business community and provides information on issues of concern to the Alaskan and Puget Sound regions. The monthly events offer insights on a variety of industries, including maritime, seafood, and technology.