FERROL, Spain, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Spanish fisherman Santi Diaz Mosquera knows every journey down the treacherous Galician rocks in search of a handful of prized gooseneck barnacles could be his last.
The dangerous practice of darting in between the huge waves that hammer against the Ferrol coastline in northwest Spain to cut the rare delicacy from the rocks claimed the life of his father nearly 15 years ago. A stone cross on the coast commemorates other friends who have died.
But for Mosquera, the rewards from a successful mission are too great to ignore.
He can sell 1 kg (2 lb) of the crustaceans for around 70 euros ($73). That rises to 100 euros at auction in the week before Christmas, a healthy sum in a region struggling since the collapse of its shipbuilding industry.
On a good day Mosquera can catch 10 kg of gooseneck barnacles, also known as percebes.
"Fisherman always want to catch the best percebe and they are in the areas where the sea hits against the rocks, it is dangerous," he told Reuters.
Dressed in a dark wetsuit and carrying a large sharp stick, rope and a bag to house his catch, Mosquera leaps effortlessly across the rocks as the waves crash in.
He began surfing with his father aged eight and would try to catch fish, mostly without success, before he took up fishing for gooseneck barnacles, often compared to dinosaur toes.
"I feel passion when I'm by the sea, I know the name of the rocks on Ferrol coast, I feel comfortable," he said.
"Everything I know about the sea, I owe to my father."
Mosquera works alongside Alberto, his friend, and the pair are among around 150 fisherman who search the Galician rocks for the precious barnacles, which can be eaten raw or after a quick boil.
Mosquera lives with his mother Rosa, who wanted her son to pursue another career after seeing her husband and others die fishing.
"Always I worry. I know that the sea is wild around the Ferrol coast, with rough waters in winter," she said.
"(But I am) super proud of him because he is very reliable. The sea is his passion."
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Writing by Patrick Johnston in LONDON; Editing by Mark Trevelyan