Dealiest Catch not just in Bering Sea

Millions of viewers watch the adventure-soap “Deadliest Catch” each week pitting Alaskan crab fishermen against the cruel Bering Sea.

The drama of grown men gets as old as quick, maybe quicker, than that of women young and old. But I do like the dramatic quality of the photography. Those of you who have sailed in harrowing gale or tropical storm waters should appreciate the pounding and rodeo-ride the crabbers must get from those serious waves.

Danger is no stranger to those who trap crabs. For many years it was the most dangerous job in the country. Stricter regulations have made the fishing safer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, the job is not a cakewalk. And that is true whether you fish the crazy waters of the Bering Sea or the mostly calm back bays of the Gulf Coast.

A case in point is the search taking place about 20 miles southeast of where I sit.

The Coast Guard and local authorities from Port Arthur, Texas, and Jefferson County began searching the Sabine Lake area Sunday afternoon for a 56-year-old Bridge City man. A Coast Guard news release said the “pleasure craft” in which Tran was boating collided with the tug and barge Father Seelos. Authorities found the submerged boat. Although the Coasties dubbed the smaller vessel as a pleasure craft, local media have reported that the boat was used for crabbing. Most crabbers — if not most in seafood — in Tran’s area are Vietnamese who first settled in Port Arthur after being plucked from flotillas trying to escape after the 1975 fall of Saigon.


Coast Guard and local authorities found this boat belonging to John Tran, who is missing in Sabine Lake. Photo by Petty Officer Manda Emery
Coast Guard and local authorities found this boat belonging to John Tran, who is missing in Sabine Lake. Photo by Petty Officer Manda Emery

One time about 15 years ago I traveled in the early but humid Southeast Texas morning to catch a crab boat with a man whose name, if I am not mistaken, was Tran. I don’t know if this was the same man because he used his given name. My photographer buddy Bullet Bob and I sailed from Bridge City through the bayous and into Sabine Lake to do a feature on this hard-working man whose waters were much calmer than those found in the Bering. But the sea wasn’t our Mr. Tran’s most pressing concern.

Sabine Lake is a 90,000-acre estuary in which the Sabine and Neches Rivers empty. It likewise forms the boundary between Texas and Louisiana. Like other seafood fished from Sabine Lake, anglers, shrimpers, crabbers and all the rest search for finite resources. Pressure is exerted on crabs and fish by fellow marine harvesters — commercial and sport — plus the waterways serve busy ports hauling petrochemicals as well as the Intracoastal Canal and its Southern State barge traffic. The 75-foot x 33-foot Father Seeros was en route to Baton Rouge, according to

A culture clash was also an inevitable outcome when Vietnamese fishermen met Southeast Texas rednecks. Not all of us are. But I can recall hearing some ya-hoo telling our crabber and his home folks to whom he was speaking in his native language on the CB to “get the shit out of your mouth.” Not very nice indeed.

Our crabber’s take that day was just a few but it was worth the trip that morning, he said. If the sea doesn’t get you something else is always there it seems. Mr. Tran has not been seen in more than 24 hours but authorities are still looking.

“We’re utilizing all efforts possible to locate the missing person,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Joshua Tidey, a Coast Guard spokesman for the Houston-Galveston area.


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