Tag Archives: halibut

Breaking the Halibut: Zero Tolerance

In “Breaking the Halibut,” the second story in Halibut Rodeo, George travels from Seattle to Homer on his uncle’s fishing boat. Before the boat enters Homer harbor, the Coast Guard boards it in search of drugs. They find nothing but a single one year old marijuana cigarette in George’s jacket. On the street it would have been worth a buck or two. The United States government, in order to make an example of George, seizes the boat and fines his uncle $100,000. This, despite the fact that, at the time at least, the possession of small amounts of marijuana was legal in the state of Alaska. The government forces the uncle to fire George. Only after the intervention of the ACLU is the fine reduced to $10,000 and the boat is released. George ends up working at Seward Fisheries.

“Breaking the Halibut” is fiction, but George’s story is taken from real life. This actually happened to one unlucky bastard I met while working in Homer. All the details are the same. The joint wasn’t even his; his sister had borrowed his jacket a year before and left it in the pocket. “George” didn’t even know it was in there before the Coast Guard found it. The people of Homer were outraged. A petition went around, but it did no good. This happened in 1988, when Ronald Reagan’s “zero tolerance” law was in full swing in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of drugs from Latin America. “George’s” uncle was no drug runner, just a guy trying to make a living in some of the most dangerous fishing waters in the world. His innocence would’ve been very clear to the authorities, but hey, with all that time and effort they had to deliver something to Uncle Sugar: one marijuana cigarette. Good for you, Mr. President!

But let’s not knock zero tolerance drug laws. Because of the tightened borders, fewer and fewer drug runners were willing to deal with bulky marijuana. It’s easy to sniff out, and the pay off isn’t that great. Cocaine is far easier to transport, and fetches a far higher price. It can also be easily cut with, say, baking powder, to expand your yield. High school students don’t know the difference. Plus you can turn it into crack. Don’t worry, parents; I’m sure crack is much better for your kids than the devil’s weed.

But pot smokers, don’t you worry. Another fun side effect of zero tolerance laws: it led to really potent marijuana. You see, the “small government conservatives” who came up with zero tolerance laws know absolutely nothing about basic economics. I’m no expert either, but the concept of “supply and demand” is hardly rocket science. Sure, there was suddenly less of that Mexican gold bud that came wrapped in newspaper to pass around at Rush concerts. But it’s not like the desire to smoke it just suddenly disappeared. Can’t get it from Mexico? We’ll just grow it here! And grow it American entrepreneurs did. So many did, in fact, that good old fashioned competition improved strains dramatically. Now scientists grow the stuff in California, Kentucky, Arkansas, even Alaska, not just illiterate peasants in Mexico. The “kind bud” you can score now is far better, far stronger than anything you could get pre-zero tolerance. I was reminded of this a couple weeks ago when I attended a Further concert in upstate New York. One dreadlocked fellow next to me kept trying to pass his pipe in my direction (Jerry Garcia might be Dead, but his fans live on). “Dude,” he said. “It’ll set you freeeee!” I declined, knowing this new, improved pot just puts me to sleep. Apparently, that’s not the case for nearly everyone else at the show…And for this new wonderweed, they can thank Ronald Reagan, the man, the legend.

Sure, George had to pay the piper, you have to break some eggs to make an omelet.

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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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