Bristol Bay has a big fishery but not a big marine services industry, beyond the seasonal shops that show up in the summer. This spring a local fabricator in Naknek expanded their business to try building a few set net skiffs from the ground up. KDLG’s Caitlin Tan reports on how that’s working out.
‘Fishy Fabrications,’ a local business in Naknek, has started building skiffs from the ground up, something only a few other local businesses do in Bristol Bay.
George Wilson and Robert Hill are working long hours these days to finish building skiffs before the salmon season takes off. Often 10 hours a day, seven days a week.
“And that’s with two dads we both have kid duties during the week,” Wilson said. “This is just a good off-season job for both of us from commercial fishing – we do this in the winter and spring.”
Wilson is the owner of ‘Fishy Fabrications’ and Hill is his right hand man. Since 2013 the business was more of a repair shop, but this March it shifted to a skiff building operation. Since then, he and Hill have built two set net skiffs.
Wilson is native to Naknek. He has been building and repairing boats since the mid-90s, but he said opening a shop in his hometown for local customers is fulfilling.
“Very proud and honored a lot – they could have easily gotten these built in Washington. I think that’s pretty cool,” Wilson said.
The set net skiff Wilson and Hill are working on now is 23 feet long by nine feet wide. The average turn-around time is four weeks with a cost of $24,000, not including freight.
His Bristol Bay customers are looking for shallow drafts in their set net skiffs, Hill said, adding that they want more room for fish handling, as well.
Fishy Fabrication skiffs have false bottoms to keep fish cooler longer.
“These ones have a false bottom built into them so even if you’re using a bin instead of an insulated tote, it’s still going to keep the fish significantly colder,” Hill said.
The false bottom also helps prevent sinking if people forget to put the deck plugs in, Hill added.
Wilson and Hill said part of their niche in the skiff building industry is that they are fishermen too.
“Probably in two weeks I’ll put my welding hood up and put my fishing hat on,” Wilson said.
Wilson said his experience helps him know what to add to the boat to make it functional and safe. Ultimately the boat is custom made for the buyer.
“Just having someone local that you can come in daily and have input on the build of your skiff, I think that’s huge,” he said. “You get exactly what you want.’
But it is not just about Fishy Fabrications. Wilson said he sees a lot of potential talent in the Naknek area for other boat and part builders.
“I think there’s a lot of local talent,” he said. “Whether it’s welding or refrigeration or just about anything, there’s a lot of room for growth.”
Wilson said he plans to continue building skiffs in the winter, as he has two orders lined up. But for now, he will wrap up this skiff and head out to do what he’s always done – fishing.