Coastal Transportation, Inc. was founded by Peter and Leslie Strong, who had tendered salmon in Alaska since the early 1970s. In 1983, the Strongs purchased the 180-foot freighter Theresa Lee from the bankrupt New England Fish Co. Coastal Transportation was incorporated early the following year, and the Theresa Lee renamed Coastal Trader. Over the next several months, the Strongs hired a captain and crew, advertised the service, and found a load of cargo. On June 3, 1984, from rented dock space on the Lake Washington Ship Canal, the Coastal Trader departed on the company’s first voyage. She returned a month later, her holds full of frozen crab.
It was crab that largely provided the foothold that allowed Coastal Transportation to establish itself in the business. The Bering Sea season in those years was nearly year-round, and production was high. There was considerable demand for cargo space, but with only one vessel, Coastal Transportation could manage only a single sailing per month. In 1985, Coastal Transportation added a second ship. The 240-foot Biscayne Freeze formerly transported frozen fish on the Canadian East Coast, and had been seized by federal agents for transporting drugs. She was purchased by Coastal Transportation at a Marshal’s sale and renamed Coastal Nomad. The second vessel allowed Coastal Transportation to schedule twice-monthly sailings. The demand for cargo capacity increased with the development of the U.S. bottomfish industry in the Bering Sea, and by 1987 Coastal Transportation was operating four vessels and providing weekly scheduled departures to Western Alaska. In 1989, the company established its own cargo terminal on a fourteen-acre site near the Ballard Bridge. A fifth vessel was added in 1990.
The “first generation” fish tender vessels were gradually replaced with the seven more efficient and capable “second generation” Aleutian trade vessels that currently comprise the fleet. In 1999, Coastal Transportation established a permanent presence at Dutch Harbor when it purchased a dock that can accommodate vessels up to four hundred feet in length. Forty-five refrigerated vans on the site can hold three million pounds of frozen product.
During the past thirty years, Coastal Transportation’s ships have served Western Alaska with more than 1,200 roundtrip voyages.