Something Fishy

by J.D. Tuccille

Gun owner though I am, I think it’s reasonable when people ask me to tuck my arsenal away before I step onto their private property. After all, it’s their property and they get to set the rules -- that’s a big part of the reason they bought the damned property to begin with. Of course, I may keep the ashtrays full the next time they come to visit me.

But apparently the Coast Guard doesn’t agree. When the commander of the Coast Guard cutter Chico told Santa Cruz fisherman Jim Blaes that he was going to board Blaes’ boat Helja for a safety inspection, Blaes’ blood pressure rose. Blaes had had enough of the Coast Guard and its Blackbeard-style boarding parties over the years. Angry or not, though, Blaes didn’t refuse the Coast Guard access -- he simply asked them to behave like civilized guests. They could send an inspector on board, but they’d have to leave the arsenal at home.

Under a long-standing statute, the Coast Guard has the power -- if not a legitimate right, since laws can’t make up down or wrong right -- to force its way onto any vessel in U.S. waters at will. They take the power very seriously; apparently the idea of a fisherman requiring Coast Guard inspectors to behave like guests rather than like a landing party at Omaha Beach struck a nerve. The Coast Guard commander refused and became a bit testy. Blaes sniffed a touch of bad attitude in the air, strapped on his own gun (on his own property), and headed out to sea. The cutter chased after.

Now, this wasn’t a thrills and chills high-speed chase. In fact, Blaes managed to reel in a few fish while the cutter ate his wake -- clearly he has a well-developed business sense as well as a keen idea of right and wrong. Of course, it’s a big ocean and if two boats went out and only one came back, well ... we’d all be reading the Coast Guard version of this story. Fortunately, Blaes is an old salt with a modern touch. He used his cellular phone to dial up newspapers, law enforcement agencies, and the Whitehouse. That is, he decided that raising a shitstorm was preferable to reversing his usual relationship with the marine life.

Jim Blaes is still alive today, and apparently the toast of the Santa Cruz fishing community. By all reports, he’s not the only one to resent the Coast Guard’s habit of forcing its way onto peaceful vessels with well-armed boarding parties, though the U.S. Attorney’s office is trying to decide if it can squash him without causing an uproar. It’s even possible that the latest incident was a dose of pay-back for Blaes’ outspoken criticism of the Coast Guard in the past.

No matter the motivation for the Coast Guard’s bully-boy tactics, there’s no justification for telling any government agency that it can violate private property without a warrant, and there is no justification for armed raiding parties without a damned good reason for a show of force. One peaceful fisherman, even if he doesn’t like you, is not a good reason, and no law can make that right.

But in today’s political climate of divine right of kings by any other name, resistance to official excess seems to inspire the urge to destroy in anybody wearing a badge or a uniform. Say “no” to the forces of law and order and you’re likely to find yourself volunteered as the latest test-ground for lots of nifty, and very expensive, law enforcement gear -- some of it in .50 caliber.

So Jim Blaes has my respect. What he did -- especially out of sight of shore -- was both brave and risky. He simply had enough and said “no more”. I wish him the best as the forces of officialdom try to find some way to teach him, and the rest of us, an object lesson. The world would be a better place if more of us found the nerve to simply say “no”. And if the Coast Guard ever comes around my place ... well, I’ll probably save my rebellion for dry land.

Ah well, and so much for the power of argument. So back you go to Full Automatic or to my home page.

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