Clem Tillion, Alaska’s original ‘fish czar,’ dies at 96

Clem Tillion, Alaska’s original ‘fish czar,’ dies at 96


Clem Tillion in Halibut Cove in 2018. (Jason Sear)

Clem Tillion had a story for everybody, it seemed, and now all people is telling Clem Tillion tales.

A towering figure in the worlds of Alaska fisheries and politics — and in the intersection in between the two — Tillion, 96, died Wednesday early morning at his property in Halibut Cove.

“Clem Tillion belongs to record now,” stated Rick Halford, who served with Tillion in the state Legislature. “Almost 100 a long time of his personal record and a lot of wonderful contributions to the condition of Alaska. He was an fantastic individual and a great teacher.”

Tillion, in the words and phrases of one near good friend, was Alaska’s first “fish czar.” He served resettle Halibut Cove, performed a part in the generation of the Permanent Fund and, into his 90s, remained energetic as a fisheries lobbyist and an uncompromising advocate for the Lasting Fund dividend.

And he was the only Alaska lawmaker to vote in opposition to repealing the state’s money tax in 1980 — a determination he defended for the rest of his lifestyle.

“He was a lengthy-term thinker,” said Vince Tillion, one of Tillion’s two sons. “His fish politics have been for the fish. His condition politics were being the lengthy-time period fascination of the condition.”

The only point that slowed Clem Tillion down was a lengthy in the past again personal injury that interfered with the sensation and circulation in his feet.

His past foot injuries, which led to difficulties that in the end caused his death, came as he was employing significant tools to function on a neighbor’s foundation above the summer months, claimed Martha Cotten, one particular of Tillion’s two daughters.

Tillion, remaining, and former state Sen. Mike Szymanski have Tillion’s casket at Tillion’s “Dead or Alive” get together in 2012. (Courtesy Mike Szymanski)

“But he was heading to be accomplishing those types of points ’til he died in any case,” she said.

Tillion’s casket had been waiting around for him for a ten years: He purchased one particular immediately after obtaining a premonition that he would die in Oct of 2012. A person of his buddies, weary of hearing about Tillion’s impending demise, challenged him to a guess that would arrive owing when Tillion expected to die.

“If you are in that casket, I will fork out for all the booze that folks can consume at your likely-away,” the pal, previous state senator and fisheries lobbyist Mike Szymanski, claimed he explained to Tillion. “If you’re not in that goddamn casket, you are having to pay for all the booze, but we’re however getting a bash.”

Tillion missing. The “Dead or Alive Bash” was an alive party.

“I experienced just occur back from fishing, bought to go around, and here’s Clem, sitting down on the dock with his casket complete of beer,” said a further longtime close friend and Homer fisherman, Buck Laukitis. “He mentioned, ‘Buck, far better have a beer — I just cannot get in there ’til it’s all absent.’”

Tillion was born in 1925 in Brooklyn, New York, where his father was an architect. He served in the South Pacific for the duration of Entire world War II — a searing encounter that he would breezily recount, in grotesque detail, into his outdated age.

He arrived in Alaska on a steamship and traveled to the shore of Kachemak Bay by prepare, raft and on foot before doing work his way all over to Halibut Cove. The local community was once property to 1000’s of men and women who labored in a herring fishery, but it was mainly abandoned after fish shares died off.

Tillion could however fish for halibut and cod, and he acquired most of an island in the cove for $1,400. The cash was secured from an Anchorage bank with a letter of suggestion from a seafood processor named Squeaky Anderson: “He’s a outrageous child but catches fish.”

Tillion married Diana, an artist who turned regarded for painting with octopus ink, and the couple raised 4 little ones.

He entered the condition Dwelling in 1963, just a handful of many years immediately after statehood, when a retiring lawmaker signed Tillion up to operate with no consulting with him.

Tillion served in the Property and Senate for practically 20 many years. Even though there, he assisted produce the state’s system to limit the selection of permitted professional salmon fishermen, in an effort and hard work to conserve declining stocks and preserve fishing rights in Alaskans’ possession.

Clem Tillion as a condition senator. (Alaska Condition Library)

Significantly later on, as “fish czar” for Gov. Wally Hickel, he acquired guiding a system that divided up harvests of halibut and black cod into specific catch shares for fisherman — a go aimed at eradicating frenzied, derby-type fisheries exactly where boats faced force to operate in perilous weather.

Even into his 90s, Tillion ongoing performing on fisheries issues as a compensated lobbyist for the regional Alaska Indigenous company for the Aleutian Islands.

Tillion was also near with Jay Hammond, a bush pilot and fisherman who served with Tillion in the Legislature, then was elected governor.

The two labored alongside one another on the institution of the Alaska Everlasting Fund in the 1970s, which Tillion later on explained as the “probably the one very best accomplishment finished by our state govt since statehood.”

His advocacy close to the fund and the dividend hardly ever stopped.

Tillion signed on to a 2016 lawsuit that unsuccessfully challenged a partial dividend veto by then-Gov. Monthly bill Walker. And he continued composing viewpoint items and letters pushing Alaska leaders to put bigger dividend payments and decreased overall investing by the fund in the state Structure. (Any ensuing spending budget holes, he has mentioned, could be loaded by a reinstated cash flow tax.)

A May well 3 letter to the Legislature apologized for “nattering on,” cited a 1970 Harper’s Magazine story and instructed lawmakers that their political complications would “disappear like a plate of king crab legs at a legislative reception” if only they could agree to enshrine a “sensible” dividend payment in the Alaska Structure.

All those positions, like several other individuals Tillion took in his occupation, ended up geared toward preserving assets for long term generations of Alaskans.

“I never ever assumed of myself as everything but a short-term organism that was likely to be below for a few a long time and pass on,” Tillion as soon as informed journalist Charles Wohlforth. “And the only matter that counted ended up my youngsters, my grandchildren and my terrific-grandchildren.”

The guidelines Tillion fought for have not been universally embraced. One current report revealed by the Nature Conservancy found that the limited entry allow software negatives Alaska Native and rural communities.

Tillion also could be pushy, and a crafty and confounding opponent if you discovered on your own on the reverse side of an situation. A 1992 Anchorage Daily Information profile referenced a bumper sticker that referred to Tillion as the “prince of darkness,” and featured a photograph of him sitting down on a bulldozer under the headline: “Get out of the way — be it for fisheries or for spouse and children, Clem Tillion does what he thinks is finest.”

But Tillion was also efficient, and beloved by generations of fishermen, policymakers and household members who expended time with him.

Tillion’s casket was stuffed with beer for his 2012 get together. Now, it rests in a crypt on a hilltop previously mentioned his property in Halibut Cove, exactly where he lies beside his late wife, accompanied by pickled herring, cookies and a martini. (Courtesy Mike Szymanski)

“He could command the room, and most people listened,” explained Laukitis, who, like Tillion, served on a critical fisheries policy building board known as the North Pacific Fishery Administration Council. “I’ve had dinner with him in dining establishments, and he’s so loud that you get stares from all the way on the other side of the home. And some of his stories have been not quite politically suitable, and some of them kind of created you cringe at occasions. But we have all listened to them, and they make me smile now.”

Laukitis was just one of Tillion’s near friends who bought to see him in his ultimate times.

Tillion experienced spent 4 times in the hospital for therapy of an infection in his foot. But site visitors could not see him there due to the fact of COVID-19 limits, so two of his young children rolled him out of the hospital for a little get together with friends, then rolled him back again in for his future dose of antibiotics.

Eventually, with his wellness failing, his spouse and children introduced him back across Kachemak Bay to his expansive household in Halibut Cove. That’s the place he died, reported Martha Cotten, his daughter.

“In his home, with a picture of my mom, easily,” she stated.

Cotten, her spouse and her brother Vince spoke with a reporter late Wednesday from Tillion’s property, just prior to his casket was sealed in a hilltop crypt that also retains his late wife’s Diana’s coffin.

“It was a terrific reduction,” Cotten said. “But not unanticipated. We definitely all ended up crying for a couple of several hours. But we’re bucking up.”

Inside of the casket with Tillion: pickled herring, cookies, images of his loved ones and notes from Diana. And a martini.