A few weeks ago, Helena Park reluctantly repainted her brand new, $75-million, fishing boat to mask its name, “America’s Finest.” It no longer seemed appropriate since the vessel might never fish in American waters.
“There's no ‘finest’ in America anymore. It will be someone else's ‘finest.’” says Park, who’s the CEO of Fishermen’s Finest, a Washington-based fishing company.
The ship’s troubles started when Park’s company made powerful enemies in Alaska and on Capitol Hill. Remote coastal communities that rely on fish processing plants for employment are worried ultra-modern fishing ships like America’s Finest, with its own on-board factory that can process over 500,000 pounds of fish a day, will make them obsolete. Along with rival fishing companies and Alaska’s representatives in the Senate, they’ve devised a strategy to stop America’s Finest from ever leaving the shipyard — using an obscure, century-old law called the Jones Act.
The Jones Act was passed in the aftermath of World War I. At the time, it was intended to protect jobs by requiring all ships transporting goods between U.S. ports to be made in America. And although 700,000 hours of American labor went into building America’s Finest, just under 10 percent of its steel was made and shaped in Europe. According to the Jones Act, that’s not American enough.
Fishermen’s Finest has attempted to bypass the law by asking Congress to grant them a waiver, something that’s been done several times before. The waiver request has passed several House votes, but repeatedly stalled in the Senate. So for the moment, the new ship’s opponents have successfully sent a message others who want to shake up the industry, that they’re not giving up without a fight.