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Unalaska Holds Firm, Demanding Congress Restrict Fishermen's Finest Trawler

Laura Kraegel/KUCB

The Unalaska City Council is standing by its request that Congress place restrictions on a troubled factory trawler commissioned by Fishermen’s Finest.

The company urged councilors earlier this month to rescind a letter they sent to Alaska’s Congressional delegation.

But councilors stood firm on Tuesday, arguing that sideboards must be imposed on the catcher-processor America's Finest.

Without restrictions, Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson said the vessel could stay offshore and swipe profitable cod deliveries that should go to Unalaska's shoreside processing plants.

"The shore sector is the lifeblood of this community," said Robinson. "Without them, we wouldn't be [expanding the] library. We wouldn't be doing the stuff that we're able to do."

The rest of the council agreed after an hour of testimony dominated by representatives from shoreside fish processors.

UniSea President Tom Enlow said he's sympathetic to the situation in Anacortes, Washington, where America's Finest sits unfinished in a shipyard. The vessel can't get in the water until Congress waives a construction mistake that broke federal law.

But Enlow said Fishermen's Finest shouldn't blame the hold-up on Unalaska's demand for sideboards.

"We don't have any quarrel with the Dakota Creek shipyard or the fine city of Anacortes," said Enlow. "It's about the migration of cod that's been processed historically by shoreside plants in Unalaska, Akutan, and King Cove — moving offshore to factory trawlers that are acting as motherships."

Representatives from the Trident, Alyeska, and Westward Seafoods plants said the amount of cod claimed by catcher-processors has increased sixfold since 2016. That's meant less revenue for their companies and fewer hours for their workers.

Mike Horn of Sundance Stevedoring made the only argument in favor of Fishermen's Finest. He said the company's fleet isn't responsible for the rise of factory trawlers.

"These vessels are not designed as motherships," said Horn. "They make their money fishing."

That didn't sway councilors. None of them proposed changing or retracting their letter.

"If Fishermen's Finest isn't planning on using this vessel as a mothership, then what difference would it make whether it has sideboards or not?" asked Councilor James Fitch. 

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska is negotiating the Congressional waiver and sideboard requests with U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington.

Mayor Frank Kelty said he expects a decision soon on the specific issues raised by America's Finest. But it's likely the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will have to grapple with larger concerns about cod allocations and motherships in the future.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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