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Originally published February 14, 2012 at 7:41 PM | Page modified February 15, 2012 at 10:19 AM

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J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding wins bid to build fishing vessel

Tacoma shipbuilder plans to double workforce to build cod-fish-processing vessel.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Tacoma-based J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding will build the 184-foot Northern Leader, the largest new fishing vessel to be constructed in the Pacific Northwest in more than two decades, according to industry officials.

The factory long-liner, capable of sophisticated processing that uses more of each fish, will cost $25 million to construct, according to Nick Delaney, managing director of Alaskan Leader Fisheries, the company that will own the boat.

The Northern Leader is scheduled to be completed in April 2013; Martinac expects to roughly double its current workforce to 100 employees.

The $25 million in construction costs will pay for Martinac's services as well as other contractors that will be involved in building the vessel.

"We are a union shipyard and have been around for 88 years," said Jonathan Platt, Martinac's vice president. "It is very important to our people that we get this work."

Alaskan Leader Fisheries, which is headquartered in Kodiak, Alaska, operates three vessels in a fleet of some 30 freezer long-liners that set baited hooks along the sea bottom to catch Pacific cod, and then process them at sea.

Up until 2011, the freezer longline fleet was in a race for fish as each company competed for shares of an overall quota. That put a premium on speedy processing even if that led to more waste as fish had their heads and guts removed before being sent to onboard freezers.

Under legislation that Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., helped push through Congress, the fleet now conducts a cooperative harvest, where each company has set harvest quotas and can be involved in slower-paced processing that adds more value, according to Kenny Down, executive director of the Seattle-based Freezer-Longline Coalition. That has given vessel owners new incentives, and new confidence, to invest in the fleet where many vessels are more than 40 years old.

"For a vessel like this to be built, it's really like the dawn of a new era for the longline fleet," Down said

The Northern Leader, financed through Northwest Farm Credit Services, will be one of the largest longline vessels in the world, with over 38,000 cubic feet of refrigerated holds, and capable of storing up to 1.87 million pounds of frozen seafood.

It will be able to produce oil from cod livers that are now discarded. It also will be outfitted with equipment to process heads, which also have been underutilized.

The more sophisticated processing should add more than 20 percent to the value of each fish brought on board, according to Delaney.

Alaskan Leader is outfitting the Northern Leader with a fuel-efficient diesel electric propulsion system, and that will help will help burnish the green credentials of the new vessels.

"What we are striving for is to have a low impact on the ocean floor and as low as carbon emissions as we can," said Keith Singleton, president of Alaskan Leader's specialty-products division.

Alaskan Leader was founded in 1990 in Kodiak by seven fishing families, who now are in 50/50 partnership with Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp, which represents 17 native villages.

In recent decades, many of the U.S. fishing vessels have been built in shipyards in states that border the Gulf of the Mexico.

Robin Samuelsen, chairman of Alaskan Leader, said the contract for the Northern Leader was put out to an open bid, and that Northwest shipyards were competitive.

Samuelsen said he is pleased it will be built near the company's Seattle office.

"Oversight is not going to be as costly as going down to the bayous."

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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