Remembering a pair of Alaskan titans through the eyes of a fisherman


Alaska and the seafood industry have seen two giants disappear in recent weeks: Clem Tillion and Chuck Bundrant. The press articles about them were excellent and gave a good overview of the men, their accomplishments and their passions. I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with both for several decades. I liked them both. It’s my effort to share some behind-the-scenes observations of them as humans.

Clem and Chuck shared many similarities. They were visionaries, deeply intelligent, tenacious, cunning. They had endless stories and great memories, especially for people. They each had a great sense of humor, went out of their way to be successful – and they did, albeit with a few broken eggs in the process. They both created a legacy that will survive them and benefit us for generations to come.

I first met Clem on a Sunday afternoon after I finished processing the crab at Juneau Cold Storage. It was January 1977. I was walking down the street in my soiled clothes when I met a tall, red-haired, hoarse man. He stopped me, asked me if I had just quit work at the cold store and introduced himself: “I’m Clem”. We started talking about fish. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, we were in his office on the Capitol. It was then that I found out he was a state senator.

On its wall was a gigantic map of Alaska with colorful little pins stuck in communities from the southeast to the Aleutian Islands, the Bering Sea, and western Alaska. The pins were connected by strings of different colors indicating the sea routes. Key species were parked in each region: pollock, flatfish, Pacific cod, crab (by species), sablefish, halibut – some of which I had never heard of. The previous year, the Magnuson Stevens Act, establishing the 200 mile limit, had been enacted. The map represented Clem’s vision of what was newly available for Alaskans to harvest and process in this new world, and how and where these products were to be transported.

At 24, I was fascinated. The sight of the man captured me. It could be accomplished and I wanted to be a part of it. Clem excitedly stirred my emotions. “You can be a part of that future if you want to,” he said. And that’s how I started my career in the seafood industry in Alaska.

Clem didn’t have much patience. He knew what to do and couldn’t understand why others couldn’t see him the same way. He was not a fan of long debates. During endless testimony before the North Pacific Council, of which we were both members at the time, there were 100 or more people lined up to testify on inshore / offshore (the first major allocation battle in the North Pacific ). Finally, Clem reached his limit: “Enough testimonials, let’s vote! The legal beagles cringed, but we made it.

On another occasion, the Council heard lengthy testimony on the proposed Halibut Individual Fishing Quota (QIF) program, of which Clem was a strong supporter. The testimonies were harsh, personal and very passionate. It was also broadcast live on Kodiak Radio. I was seated next to Clem at the Council table during a break. Suddenly, Clem turned to me and began to voice his opinion on the positions held by the anti-IFQ people who were testifying. After about a minute, one of the council staff rushed over to us and said, “Clem, they’re still broadcasting live!” “

Finally, at one of these meetings, Clem got tired of my ambiguities on a certain topic, turned to me and said, “Larry, you have to learn to rise above your own. principles. It took me many years to understand the meaning and wisdom of this commentary: Sometimes sacrifice and compromise are necessary to accomplish greater things in the future.

Clem was capable of strange statements and observations, and he relished it. It was his sense of humor in the spotlight. As Clem’s late wife Diane once told me, “Clem embarrassed me many times, but he never made me ashamed. It’s old Clem Tillion.

Much has been said about Chuck’s early days here in Alaska, how the farm boy came from Tennessee looking to earn money for college. He soon found out he could earn more in Alaska than he ever could on a farm in Tennessee, so he stayed.

He built an onshore processing plant in Akutan, focusing on Pacific cod. Foreign fishing was still strong at that time. He produced a lot of salt cod and sold it in Portugal. Something went wrong with the sale and Chuck was never paid what he was owed. Around the same time, Akutan’s plant burned to the ground. Amidst those hurdles – competition from foreign fishing fleets, not getting paid for cod and fire – many thought the combination was the end for Trident. Not so. He held on and, with the help and support of co-owners and friends, rebuilt what has now become the largest seafood processing plant in North America.

In the 1990s, a class action lawsuit was filed against all of the major processing companies operating in Bristol Bay. The lawsuit alleged price fixing. It was extraordinarily moving on all sides, like a civil war. Faced with huge potential legal costs and an unpredictable outcome, one company after another has settled out of court, in some cases paying tens of millions of dollars. In the end, there was one company left that refused to set up shop: Trident Seafoods. “We are innocent,” Chuck asserted, “and will not settle under any circumstances! In the end, Chuck had his day in court and won – a huge victory, the mark of a man who refused to be bullied.

A few weeks later, I saw Chuck in his Seattle office. I congratulated him on his great victory. Barely recognizing my comment, he quickly changed the subject: “Are you really going to build this harbor in St. George?” He had already left for other battles.

During one of the inshore / offshore debates before the North Pacific Council in 1989, Chuck personally testified before the Council. It was an extremely rare thing for him to do so. He introduced himself, fidgeted, wiggled his mouth back and forth a few times, and finally said, “I don’t want to make permanent enemies …”

It was the essence of man, it showed his courage. He understood that there would be occasions when it would be necessary to disagree with people he was close to and loved, but he relished the future opportunity to become friends and allies again, later, when the friendship would be possible again. He always built for the future.

Finally, Chuck was a sociable person. He almost always had a kind word and a helping hand. A friend of mine, Bill Shaisnikoff, told me this story. Bill had recently started a business in Unalaska, on the outskirts of town. Bill was working outside and a Trident truck pulled up. Chuck walked out and introduced himself. Bill asked why Chuck had stopped. Chuck said he heard Bill was starting a new business and wanted to support him. “Anything you produce, we’ll buy it,” he said. And he kept his word.

My condolences to both families. We have the chance to meet giants in our lifetime, and even more to benefit from their achievements. These two men were key players during the training period of a young Alaskan. Thank goodness they were there.

Larry Cotter is the retired CEO of APICDA, one of the six community development quota groups. He was a voting member of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Board from 1986 to 1992 and served on numerous boards and commissions related to the seafood industry.

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