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Aquaculture barge at Giddings Boat Works

This 30-by-75-foot steel barge left the Giddings Boat Works yard in Charleston for a Pacific Aquaculture steelhead farm on the Columbia River. Giddings owner Ray Cox hopes other aquaculture firms will want similar vessels.

CHARLESTON — As soon as Giddings Boat Works employees finished their latest project, they had to cut it up in pieces.

That was the only way to get the 30-by-75-foot steel barge to Grand Coulee, Wash., where it's going to haul fish and equipment up and down the Columbia for a Pacific Aquaculture steelhead farm.

The barge was cut up on Friday, and by Friday afternoon, Giddings Boat Works owner Ray Cox was watching his employees prepare the sections for shipping. On Sunday, the sections will take off for Grand Coulee aboard a procession of four trucks, he said.

Observing alongside Cox on Friday was local seafood entrepreneur Jerry Hampel in his capacity as manager of Pacific Aquaculture, a division of Pacific Seafood. Hampel collaborated on the design of the barge with Cox, Giddings' general manager Mike Lee, and naval architect Bruce Culver. Cox's company Tarheel Aluminum built the wheelhouse, and additional work was done by Skallerud Marine.

Hampel, who built his own first fishing boat when he was 20 and went on to found North Bend Oysters, is a former Port of Coos Bay commissioner who takes an interest in the Charleston shipyard.

"I really love doing this," he said Friday, watching workers prepare the barge sections for shipping. "I love the yard, and I love the boat people."

Hampel himself brings a lot of business to Giddings and the other Charleston shipyard businesses. In addition to managing Pacific Aquaculture, he manages Pacific Fishing, a fleet of 10 shrimp and crab boats belonging to Pacific Seafood. He advocates for the Charleston shipbuilders not only among fishermen but also to the port, which is landlord to the flourishing businesses at the shipyard.

"These are the ones that bring in the jobs," Hampel said.

After a summer lull, Giddings is keeping plenty of employees busy. As soon as the barge leaves, an Alaska fishing boat, the Deliverance, will move into its spot to undergo sponsoning, or widening. Cox said he has work lined up through next spring.

This is the second aquaculture barge Giddings has built, the previous one being a smaller aluminum vessel. The new barge has a unique design that can accommodate a fully loaded tanker truck or hold fish processing equipment. Cox hopes that when other companies see it, they'll want barges of their own.

"You never know what could come next," Cox said Friday. "If people see this being done — this is out of the normal."