Death by Halibut


Cecil Adams says yes, yes you can be killed by a halibut…

You should fear the halibut just the same, as one would rightly fear anything that’s huge, powerfully muscled, and prone to thrashing when pulled into your boat. Some halibut weigh more than 400 pounds and have to be killed by beating them over the head with a club. This is best done surreptitiously. If instead you do it on your reality TV show like Sarah Palin before the shocked eyes of animal rights activists, you’re going to take some heat.

Native Americans, now, they understood halibut. The Tsimshian tribe of the Pacific Northwest has a tale of a monster halibut that ate an entire canoe, along with the prince and two princesses who were aboard. Bent on revenge, a two-man suicide team paddled out to face it and also got eaten. However, they succeeded in gutting the fish from the inside before expiring, ultimately resulting in the giant halibut dying too. So, just like the ending of Hamlet, only with a fish.

As for the tragic tale recounted above, it’s no fish story. In August 1973 the Juneau Empire reported that a solitary Alaska fisherman had indeed been killed by a halibut. Joseph T. Cash, 67, caught a 150-pound specimen near Kupreanof Island and succeeded in hauling it aboard. In the process, though, the flailing fish evidently broke his leg, severing an artery and sending Cash crashing to the deck, cracking three ribs. Though mortally injured, the stubborn fisherman managed to lash himself to the boat’s winch to avoid falling overboard. He was later found there when the boat washed ashore — and by God, he still had his fish.

This incident illustrates a stark fact: halibut fishing is dangerous. Commercial fishing in general is one of the riskiest occupations in the country, with a death rate 32 times the average for U.S. workers. Crab and other shellfish are the most dangerous critters to go after, as fans of the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch may know — Alaska shell fishermen perish at more than 90 times the U.S. rate.

(click here to continue reading The Straight Dope: Is there such a thing as death by halibut?.)


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