Legendary Santa Cruz fisherman dies
By Ken McLaughlin
The sea is forever, but the old man who symbolized it in Santa Cruz is gone.
Victor Ghio, a local legend and a vital link to the city's storied Italian fishing
colony, died Thursday after more than 60 seasons of fishing the cold, wind-chopped waters
of Monterey Bay.
Ghio, 88, was the last fisherman of Italian heritage remaining from the days when
fishermen tied their boats to the city's municipal wharf, long before the Santa Cruz
harbor was built four decades ago. The tough and wiry veteran continued to fish
commercially until only recently, when he fell ill with pneumonia.
``He kept going out every day, no matter how bad the fishing,'' said Tom Canale, a
fellow Santa Cruz fisherman for 26 years. ``He didn't have radar or global-positioning
satellites or any of those things. I don't know how he did it. He was
What Ghio had was a keen knowledge of the sea and a 30-foot cedar-hulled boat called the
Catherina G, named after his mother. The lifelong bachelor also had hundreds of friends
and family members who delighted in how much he relished life.
``He loved everybody, and everybody loved him,'' Johnnie Ghio, 76, said of his
brother, whose face was creased by decades of sun, wind and the relentless spray of salt
Despite his recent illness, Johnnie said, his brother seemed truly to believe he was going
to be ready for the opening of commercial salmon season next month. ``His home nurse told
me, `All he does is work on his fishing lines,' '' Johnnie Ghio said.
Indeed, Victor was still buying fishing equipment until shortly before his death. ``More
spoons, 10 dozen hoochies. He kept getting more stuff,'' Johnnie said. ``I knew
the ocean was his life, and I just let him do it.''
Even when the fishing is bad, life is good, Victor Ghio told a reporter a few years ago.
``I'm away from everyone, the traffic, the noise,'' he said. ``It's my
world, and I don't answer to no one.''
It was that free-wheeling spirit that so enraptured his friends and family.
``Whenever he was coming over, all of us kids were just so excited,'' said niece
Bonnie Reumann of Santa Cruz. ``There was only one Uncle Victor. And he'd always have
fishing stories to tell. He'd always ask what we wanted to be when we grew
His grandparents, Stefano and Vittorina Ghio, had come to Santa Cruz before the turn of
the 20th century along with more than five dozen families from Riva Trigoso, a village
south of Genoa, the bustling Northern Italian seaport. Victor Ghio, one of eight children,
was born in Santa Cruz and raised in a part of town called La Barranca, on the cliffs
above the wharf.
His grandfather and father were fishermen. He learned to fish at age 8 or 9 and went into
the business in 1935 after getting out of high school.
When World War II broke out, he enlisted, as did many Italian-American boys trying to
prove their patriotism after Italy declared war on the United States. While he was in the
Navy, his parents and grandparents were temporarily forced to give up fishing in early
1942, when the U.S. government ordered Italian and German nationals -- and all people of
Japanese descent -- to move east of state Highway 1. That meant staying off the bay.
Ghio spent a decade in the service and earned a Purple Heart.
In 1950, Ghio had his Monterey cabin style boat built in Sausalito for $6,000. Over the
years, he fished for halibut, sharks, sardines, sable fish, sea bass, rock cod and
It was good for his soul but tough on his body.
His second cousin, Santa Cruz historian Geoffrey Dunn, whose mother is a member of the
famous Stagnaro fishing family, said Ghio endured 18 surgeries to his back, knees and
other parts of his body. He lost half of four of the fingers on his right hand five years
ago in a fishing accident when he caught his hand in a recoiling line about 12 miles out
As he bled profusely, his brother said, Ghio could think of only one thing. ``He said,
`There goes my fishing season this year,' '' his brother recalled.
But Ghio was wrong. Several months later, he was back at the helm of the Catherina G,
although losing part of the use of his right hand made life on the seas more perilous.
His boat had no safety rails, and Victor Ghio never learned how to swim.
``I always worried that he'd go overboard and that would be the end of him,''
His buddies at the Santa Cruz harbor -- where the gruff but sweet Ghio held court almost
every afternoon -- worried too.
``If there was anybody at the dock, they wouldn't let him go out alone,''
Johnnie said. ``Someone would go out with him.''
Dunn said his cousin will be remembered for his love of cooking, women and red wine -- and
hatred of government bureaucrats and sea lions. But most of all, Dunn said, he was a
living monument to a piece of Santa Cruz that went with him.
``Victor connected all of the Santa Cruz fishermen to that early generation,''
Born: Aug. 20, 1916, Santa Cruz
Died: March 31, 2005, Watsonville
Survived by: Brother, Johnnie M. Ghio of Santa Cruz; sisters Victoria ``Sista''
Gemignani, Mary Marsalisi and Gloria Della Mora, all of Santa Cruz; numerous nieces,
nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.
Services: Funeral procession will leave Pacific Gardens Chapel at 9:30 a.m. today for a
Mass of Christian burial at Holy Cross Catholic Church at 10 a.m. Private entombment will
follow in Holy Cross Cemetery.
Memorial: Contributions may be made to a favorite charity.
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