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Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2002 12:00 am

Crew lives at sea in their home away from home

BY EMMA PEREZ-TREVIO

The Brownsville Herald

Its a hard life.

Callused hands weathered by time, a deep wound to the neck and other scars of

the trade attest to the perils of the job.

But, Captain Jose Joe Claudio, commander of the Kathryn Anne, cant see

himself doing anything else but shrimping.

Just back from a 49-day trip to Mississippi and Louisiana, Claudio will get

only a few days of rest with his family before heading out to sea again.

This time, the 52-year-old San Benito native hopes that he and his crew of two

and sometimes three will return with a much larger catch.

Thirty minutes after sunset on July 15 signals the start of the Gulf of Mexico

shrimp season in state and federal waters for an industry that has been hard

hit by a decline in shrimp prices, decreased production and high fuel costs.

Also in the midst of a U.S. market weakened by imports, regulations limiting

shrimping grounds off the Gulf of Mexico and a skittish economy resulting from

the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on U.S. ground, Claudio, as other

shrimpers, also prays that the weather at least holds.

Claudio has been a captain on shrimp vessels for 20 years.

He is hoping for calm skies, peaceful seas, a safe return, and a good catch

this season.

His wife Enedelia, two sons and three daughters wait for him and rely on him.

They are among the more than 10,000 people that depend on the $60 million-plus

shrimp industry in the Rio Grande Valley for their familys livelihood.

Besides counting on an expert crew, Claudio is well accompanied on his trips.

With the fishermens prayer to the left of Kathryn Annes steering wheel, the

crucifix of Jesus Christ and a rosary to the front, and the Virgen of San Juan

near the gauge panel, Claudio, a soft-spoken man with skin browned by labor

and creased by saltwater will embark once again in one of countless journeys

he has taken out to sea since he started working in the shrimping business in

1978.

It is so peaceful, Claudio said of his stays at sea.

There are no pressures. The telephone isnt always ringing and I dont

spend money, Claudio said with a laugh.

Fishing at night with a few hours of sleep and reading during the day when

there is time is how Claudio spends most of the year.

Its not an easy job and this is compounded by the dire economic situation

facing the shrimping industry.

Its hard because you never know what is going to happen, Claudio said.

Every day is different, he said.

Hes proud of his job, however.

The happier one is at his job, the better job he does. We also have to do

good work. That is what we leave our children, Claudio said.

Starting as a rig man, Claudio rose to captain during a career that now spans

almost 25 years.

I started learning little by little, Claudio said of the knowledge that he

has gained throughout the years from experience.

I felt a lot of emotion when I became captain, Claudio said. I also felt a

little taller, he added with a smile.

But, its very hard to be away from my wife and children, Claudio said.

The vessel is a home away from home, where Claudio and his crew will spend

approximately 250 days of the year working hard, but also with numerous

comforts now-available in shrimp vessels including air-conditioning, a

television set, a video cassette recorder, a cellular telephone, and a fully

equipped and stocked kitchen.

Before, you just had to adapt, Claudio said.

But despite the comforts, Claudio noted that time away from a family cannot be

replaced.

Its a life that affects the entire family.

We have kids and they dont get to see their dad every day and he cant

attend their school activities or sports, Claudios wife, Enedelia, said.

Thats the most difficult part. It was easier when they were younger, but

its been harder as they get older because they became more aware that he was

not attending their functions, she said.

But, they understand that this is his job and hes got to work. Its a hard

job 24-7 and its also an important job, Enedelia said.

Claudio has been away at sea for 60 days at a time.

It also is not always easy on his wife, but hes my husband. I support him;

were in this together, she added.

For Claudio and his wife Enedelia, the biggest fear and concern is that one

day he will not return from sea.

But we know God will take care of him, she said.

Crew member Jesus Ahumada doesnt work in the business throughout the year,

only on some runs.

Its very difficult to be away from the family. I have to stay on top of the

children. As it is, sometimes childen get into problems even though one is

nearby, Ahumada said.

Rig man Hector Hernandez also has been in the business for about 25 years.

The most difficult thing is being away from the family and the hours and the

days that we spend at sea, Hernandez said.

Captain Gilberto Escobedo of the Marceline recently came back from Mississippi

a disappointed and disheartened man.

We found absolutely nothing. All the shrimp was very small, Escobedo said.

In addition, the shrimpers all felt constantly watched by the U.S. Coast

Guard, U.S. Immigration, Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies as

a result of the September 2001 attacks.

We understand they have a job to do but as a consequence, they also made all

the captains and crews nervous about the unprovoked scrutiny. They didnt let

us work comfortably and this, coupled with lack of shrimp and low prices, only

made things more difficult, Escobedo said.

Were in the midst of the saddest of miseries, Escobedo added. This is the

most critical and sorriest time in the shrimping industry that I have ever

lived through in my 30 years or more in the fishing business, Escobedo said.

Believe me, we have never experienced this. Let me put it this way, there are

people talking to themselves desperate about the situation they are living

through and there are no resources to help us, Escobedo said.

Its difficult to be away from the family and being absent hurts, but in the

past at least we found comfort from returning with a good catch. Now, we dont

even have that comfort, Escobedo said.

But, thoughts of leaving the business dont cross either Claudios or

Escobedos minds.

This is our profession. This is the only thing we know how to do, Escobedo

said.

They are in for the long haul.

I will continue to do this until I no longer can, Claudio said.

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