On Halibut

The halibut is a flat fish that skims the bottom of the ocean hugging the shores of Alaska and Kamchatka. But it starts off as a “normal” fish, swimming side to side like Nemo. Only once it reaches maturity does it flop over and head for cooler, darker climes. It loses its uniformity of color as its bottom (once a side) takes on a creamy whiteness, and its top turns the color of the ocean floor for camouflage, both against predator and prey. The eye on the bottom eventually migrates to the top. Even with the oldest halibut this evolutionary arrangement never looks quite right. That second, wandering eye is never perfectly aligned with the other; it looks forced, off-kilter, as if Nature hasn’t quite figured out where it should go. But the halibut is not a vain fish. It swims undetected beneath its quarry, a fattened black cod perhaps, or a spindly snow crab, and dives, but upwards, snatching its dinner, exerting the most energy it will all day. If indeed the cod hurls an insult at this Quasimodo of the fish world, his bemusement will not last long. Once inside the belly of the halibut, the cod will have its own problems. Meanwhile, his host will enjoy an after dinner snooze.

As far as predators go, well, let’s face it: after a certain age the only predators halibut have to worry about are human. The fish can grow up to eight feet long, and can tip a really big scale at 700 pounds. Snag one over a hundred pounds at Homer’s annual Halibut Derby and you got yourself a Trophy Fish. Something that big doesn’t go down without a fight, though. It might take three or four people to haul it on board, and once there it will start slamming into things. The wise captain fires at least one shot from a .22 into the halibut’s brain pain to keep its death throes from destroying the boat. After that? Hang it from a meat hook and get your picture taken, the white side towards the camera. Funny that the evolutionary turns meant to protect the halibut from its predators are ultimately useless against the sportsman’s hook. Does the halibut sigh in relief once it gets so big that no other form of marine life will mess it with it? Fat lot that does for it. Now it’ll be sought as a Trophy. And if you get one, save the cheeks for me; that’s the best part.


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