Ed Oczkewicz built his first through-picker gillnetter for the Bristol Bay salmon fishery in 1997. “Back then only a few of us were doing them,” he says. “Now they’re trendy.”
Oczkewicz’s second through-picker, the Dan O, can operate as a bow picker or stern picker when hauling back a gillnet. The wheelhouse sits elevated on port and starboard supports called findleys. The drum is on rails so it can slide forward when stern picking.
Oczkewicz started building boats in 1978. “I went to college, but I always wanted to just build stuff,” he says. “There was a big boatbuilding boom in the late ’70s and ’80s. So I started Maritime Fabrications. Just baby steps. I didn’t want a lot of debt. But eventually we bought the property and equipment of La Conner Machine and Drydock and became La Conner Maritime Services.”
Wanting to deliver a superior product, Oczkewicz headed to Bristol Bay to see what fishermen wanted in a vessel. “I hopped on a boat in 1983, maybe ’82. It was an eye-opener,” he says.
Oczkewicz kept going to Bristol Bay for the next 15 years, eventually taking his own boats and selling them.
“I took six years off after 1997, took my family out fishing,” he says. “But when my son Isaac got old enough, I got back into it.”
At age 39, Isaac Oczkewicz now runs Maritime Fabrications, the boatshop at La Conner. Oczkewicz notes that another of his four sons runs the manufacturing arm of the business, and another started running his own gillnetter in Bristol Bay at age 19.
At 72, Ed Oczkewicz was considering getting out of the business, but he couldn’t do it.
“I sold my last boat, and somebody wanted to buy all my gear. I thought about it, but two weeks later I started building this one. Six and half months later, we got her up to Alaska.”