BODEGA BAY — The two skippers left dock before daylight, crawling through dense fog on an uncertain quest made all the more challenging by how little they could see beyond the bows of their fishing vessels.
Commercial crabbers Tal Roseberry and Dick Ogg weren’t entirely sure where to look Wednesday as they worked off someone else’s personalized plotter. But they were bent on retrieving the crab gear and last catch of a fellow fisherman, Ryan Kozlowski, who lost his life on the water last week.
Kozlowski died sometime late Feb. 24 or early Feb. 25 after he apparently fell overboard from the Seastar, a 42-foot vessel that had become “his passion” in the few years he had owned it.
On Wednesday, a half-dozen fishermen joined Roseberry and Ogg to serve as deckhands. More waited on shore to help land however many Dungeness crabs they were able to bring in. All were driven by the communal spirit of men and women who draw together when times turn tough.
“We always do this,” said Scott Bertelsen, 65, a crabber and close friend of Kozlowski. “We all compete against each other, but we all help each other.”
The effort was a tribute to Kozlowski, a well-liked, hardworking man of 30 who was among the younger members of the local fishing fleet.
Many saw in him the hope of a new generation to carry on their traditions, as the region’s mostly veteran fishermen eventually retire from a notoriously dangerous and increasingly difficult occupation.
They included Wanda Ries, whose husband, Kenny, had taken Kozlowski on as a deckhand before Kozlowski decided to go all in and acquire the Seastar. Kenny Ries was among those aboard Roseberry’s Sea Farmer on Wednesday.
“He was a son to a lot of us,” Bertelsen said from the dock.
“I think he had three or four fish fathers,” Wanda Ries said.
Those who gathered wanted to make sure Kozlowski’s crab traps and lines got removed from the ocean floor, so they don’t pose a risk to marine life. And they want to help Kozlowski’s family recover what little they can after their loss.
“He was a friend of ours,” said Roseberry, “and he lost gear and crabs, and we can try to sell it for the family.
“And if we don’t get the gear, it becomes derelict gear. Leaving the stuff in the water is not a good practice,” Roseberry said. “That’s why we’re doing this, and we’ll keep doing it until we find it all.”
Kozlowski was a 2014 graduate of the California State University Maritime Academy. He spent several years as a tugboat captain in Puget Sound and Alaska, before following the footsteps of his late father, William Kozlowski, into commercial fishing out of Bodega Bay.
Practically raised on their dad’s boat, “he just loved the work,” his sister, Michelle Kozlowski, said.
“He had a good job. He made good money, but he loved being out on the ocean,” she said.
Ryan Kozlowski already had pretty much rebuilt a smaller boat, the Helen M, left to him when his father died in 2010, by the time he bought the Seastar a year or two ago, she said. He fished salmon and crab, and over the past winter tried his hand at spiny lobster.
He was a man who could work with little sleep or food, if necessary, to get a job done, his sister said. Though he was older by 4½ years, the two siblings “are very similar,” she said. “We can run on nothing.”