Tighter Retention Rules Prompted United States Seafoods Vessel Refit

Undercurrent News, June 10, 2016
By Ola Wietecha

As part a general industry move toward maximizing catch usage in response to regulations encouraging higher fish retention on vessels, Seattle-based United States Seafoods recently christened its newest vessel which will replace two smaller ships.

The company began working on a refit for the 233-foot catcher-processor Seafreeze America in March 2015 with the goal of replacing two of its smaller, 100-foot vessels.

The vessel, which will catch and process groundfish, will head north to Alaska later in the month to fish in the Bering Sea.

The vessel is a refitted former Navy oceanographic research vessel and cost over $30 million to build. According to Matthew Doherty, the company’s CEO and president, building a new catcher-processor of that size would have cost between $65m-$85m.

“We’d been planning on doing it for quite some time,” Doherty told Undercurrent News. “It’s larger so it’s safer, it’s more comfortable and we can use more of the catch that have been able to in the past.”

Doherty said the company was able to save about $5m on the project because of its recent move to a new facility where it is now able to house all its vessels and its offices.

About three years ago the company purchased a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration facility in Seattle.

“I think this property has helped us save [that much] just because our offices and boats are right next to each other,” he said. “We vertically integrated our operations quite substantially.”

Growing need to maximize catch

Among other upgrades the vessel has a new factory which will allow the company to use more of the fish it catches.

According to Doherty, this is a growing trend in the Amendment 80 sector — vessels that catch multiple species — which is facing more pressure to maximize quota.

“The sector we are in, the A80 sector…we’re all looking at gradually retooling our vessels because [our] small vessels can’t really meet the demands of higher [fish] retention,” he said, adding that the age of the vessels is also pushing many companies to invest in refits or new vessels.

Doherty attributed this shift mostly to new regulations that have gradually come into effect.

“Originally, the sector would have much higher discards so we’d catch a certain amount of fish and…smaller vessels would take the most premium fish and put that on the market,” he told Undercurrent.

However over time regulation became stricter and vessels were required to keep more fish onboard.

“Because of those new retention standards we had to figure out what to do and how to process the other remaining cuts that we didn’t have to deal with before,” he said.

This has “pushed us to figure out how to use everything we take out of the water,” he added.

The move has also been prompted by an increasingly environmentally-conscious industry, he said.

Changes in retention standards were followed by changes in the quota system to prevent fishermen “racing for the fish”. In order to do this, each company was given its own quota.

Eventually, under this system — in which companies were given individual quotas — companies were allowed to replace smaller vessels with larger ones.

“They used to regulate the fishery by the size of the vessel, in a sense, but once you have a quota you don’t have to be so concerned about that,” he said. “Now if you have a bigger vessel it doesn’t change what you’re doing, it just allows you to do more with what you’ve brought up on the vessel.”