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Tacoma-built high-technology fishing boat heading for Alaska

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on July 9, 2013 at 4:04 pm with No Comments »
July 9, 2013 4:14 pm

A boat whose bright blue hull had become a landmark along Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway over the last few months has bid goodbye to Tacoma and the shipyard that built it.

The Northern Leader, the largest commercial fishing boat built in the Northwest in the last two decades, left its moorings at J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Co. Sunday afternoon headed to Seattle for some brief final outfitting.  The vessel, 184 feet long and 42 feet wide, will then sail to Alaska where it will begin its working life.

The Northern Leader, the largest fishing vessel built in the Pacific Northwest in the last 20 years, heads out of the Thea Foss Waterway Sunday through the Murray Morgan Bridge. -- Photo by Julie Kramer
The Northern Leader, the largest fishing vessel built in the Pacific Northwest in the last 20 years, heads out of the Thea Foss Waterway Sunday through the Murray Morgan Bridge. — Photo by Julie Kramer

The vessel’s departure was marked by a relatively rare occurrence, the raising of the lift span of the Murray Morgan Bridge. That 100-year-old bridge was returned to service last winter after years of closure after a $52-million overhaul.

Most vessels moored  south of the lift bridge are not tall enough to require the bridge’s center span to be lifted.

Joe Martinac, the shipyard’s president, said the completion of the $25-million Northern Leader leaves the shipyard temporarily without any major active shipbuilding projects. Over the last several years, Martinac has built a series of tugboats for the Navy and private owners.  The Northern Leader was the first fishing vessel the yard has built in decades.

Martinac was one of the nation’s largest builders of tuna boats in the last decades of the 20th century.

The company president said the yard has had discussions with other fishing companies about building new vessels, but none has yet made a commitment.  The Northern Leader is owned by Alaskan Leader Fisheries LLC. That limited liability corporation is owned jointly by the Alaska Leader Group of Lynden and by the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. of Dillingham, Alaska.  The new boat will be homeported in Kodiak, Alaska.

The vessel features innovations designed to make it environment friendly and cost-efficient, said the boat’s designers.

The Northern Leader will use virtually every part of the fish it catches on its baited hooks, said Seattle’s Jensen Maritime Consultants, which designed the boat.  The vessel has freezers that can hold 1.86 million pounds of fish.

Diesel-electric powerplants will propel the boat through propellers that can be swiveled in any direction.  The boat carries 136,000 gallons of fuel.

The long lines used to catch the fish are equipped with 76,800 hooks baited by automated machinery built in Norway.

The departure of the Northern Leader has reduced the shipyard’s production workforce to zero, said Martinac.  In addition to other new fishing vessels, the shipyard is talking with several vessel assistance companies about building new tugboats for their fleets.

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