Eldor R. Lee
Eldor R. Lee

Name: Eldor R. Lee

City: Petersburg

District: 2

Occupation: Fisherman

Born: 1920 - Petersburg, Alaska

Death: March 15, 2002 - Petersburg, Alaska

Burial Location: Ashes scattered near Petersburg, Alaska

Alaska Resident: Lifelong

Convention Posts:

  • Member, Committee on Legislative Branch
  • Member, Committee on Local Government

Education: Washington State College

Public Offices and Organizations:

  • City Council, Petersburg, Alaska

Further Information: Local Government Committee at Work


Quote from the Constitutional Convention:

"It's inconceivable to me that any representative of the people of Alaska could think about barring any change to eliminate the fish traps. It has been a burden upon the people of Alaska for my entire life and, prior to that, on other people, and I can't see how you people can fail to include this in your constitution. The people have always shown they have wanted them out, get rid of them, they have never had any power. If that same power can work on a body like this as it has on others, and we neglect to take care of the people of Alaska in this problem, I, for one, will be greatly disappointed. Now, in '48 we had a referendum on it. Eight to one they voted to abolish the fish traps. What better argument could we have for getting ratification of our constitution? People want the fish traps out, it has been proven. Now, if this is in our constitution, the people are going to go and vote to get the traps out, and there are going to be many of them that will vote that otherwise would never have voted before, and they will vote to ratify our constitution, and that, of course, will work to serve our purpose here.

I don't know if all of you people are familiar with the operation of a fish trap. A fish trap is a huge piece of equipment, bigger than -- it covers as much area as this building. It is fastened from the shore; it has piling going out from the shore; it has a long lead -- they call it a lead. I couldn't find the length that is the limit on them. I should be corrected -- I think it is 500 yards -- a thousand feet -- that it can project out into the sea, and that has a huge structure that works like a maze, and the salmon follow in through and they go around through the different compartments of the trap until they come to what is called the "spiller", and there they bunch up until they are gathered into a boat and taken into town. Now, a salmon comes in from the sea; it is a free fish; belongs to all of us people. It comes in, and it works its way in toward its stream from which it originated; it falls with the tide, and goes and hits this lead that is projecting out there 24 hours a day except during closed period. It hits the lead and it doesn't get away; it follows and goes in there and is caught. Of course, fishermen can't fish within a certain area of that trap because it is not permitted, that is, with regular gear that is handled by Alaskans, and this trap is designed so that it catches fish no matter what way they go. A fish travels with the tide -- a salmon -- and it continues toward the stream and each time, after it goes a certain distance, on the outgoing tide again, it will drift back a certain distance; then the trap catches it from the other side. A trap, of course, doesn't select what fish it catches. You talk about conservation of salmon. This also applies to a great number of other types of fish -- snappers, trout, king salmon, halibut, codfish, and many other fish that operate in the same way. They lead along any type of lead. This lead projects way down to the bottom, and the trap itself has a bottom. The fish can't get out after they once get into this maze.

Now, we have a certain number of these traps that have been there for many years. I can't get one. I couldn't afford to get one, in the first place, and they won't give me any either. The trap sites that are occupied now are the only ones that can be had. That's un-American, un-Alaskan, indecent, and that is what we are living under now. I used as a comparison the other day in my argument before the Committee, I compared a fish in the sea to be very like a caribou out on the tundra. You people aren't faced with a problem where a certain group has permission to set up a huge corral and catch the migrating caribou as they come by for their exclusive use, and then not permit anybody else to set up that type of trap. Now that is the thing we have facing us in the fisheries. I hope I have convinced you. It is a desperate situation, and we will lose a great deal of the faith of the Alaskan people if we fail to vote to include this."

-Delegate Eldor R. Lee, Day 69 of the Constitutional Convention, speaking about the economic effects of overfishing in Alaskan waters, and the repercussions on communities reliant on fishing.


Obituary – Eldor Lee, 81

Lifelong Petersburg resident Eldor R, Lee died peacefully Match 15, 2002 at his home with his family at his bedside. His final moments of wakefulness were spent in the last farewells from his beloved family members.

Eldor was born the son of Norwegian immigrants in a small house on the shore of Hammer Slough on April 17, 1 920. As a boy he subsistence hunted and fished the streams, muskegs and mountains surrounding Petersburg with his boyhood friends. In all seasons they rowed in wooden rowboats up Petersburg Creek, caught the tide down Wrangell Narrows to hunting and fishing spots, and up Blind Slough for a camping trip whenever time permitted. Starting with these boyhood experiences, he developed a great respect for nature and all living things that remained with him always.

In his high school years he spent the summers longlining and seining on his father's fishing schooner the Vesta . After school in winter he hunted, helped his family gather firewood, and played basketball. He was very athletic and was a key player in Petersburg High School winning the 1938 Southeast championship. After high school he continued playing basketball for Petersburg at the Gold Medal tournaments in Juneau. While traveling to play basketball in other Southeast towns he made many friends. When traveling in the region later in life he enjoyed bumping into them, greeting them by name and stopping to chat.

When Eldor "El", was nineteen his older brother Allen was killed in an airplane accident. El and his younger brother Harold took over running the Vesta while their sister Ruth helped our at home. They fished halibut and black cod and chartered with Kaylor and Olness to pack seine and gillnet fish in the summer.

When WWII came, Eldor skippered a 72 foot patrol boat throughout northern southeastern Alaska. A short time later he was sent to the South Pacific on the patrol frigate USS Glendale. After a very hard tour of duty there he returned, profoundly saddened by his war experience. He was decorated for his service from 1942 to 1945.

After the war, Eldor was introduced to his sister Ruth's friend Pauline Martin and they were married in Sumner, Wash. They established their home in Petersburg.

El worked at several jobs in Petersburg, including Postmaster, terminal manager for Alaska Coastal Airlines, and as Petersburg's first terminal manager for the Alaska Marine Highway System. He served on the City Council and worked as temporary City Clerk.

During the transition to Statehood, El served as a Delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention, where he was instrumental in drafting language banning fish traps. These huge traps, mostly owned by wealthy out-of-state interests, corralled the returning salmon by the thousands. No new trap permits were being issued, so the trap owners had a virtual monopoly. As a commercial fisherman, Eldor felt it his mission at the Convention to make sure they would be outlawed when Alaska became a State. Largely as a result of his perseverance, language drafted into the Constitution did ban the traps which resulted in great positive changes for the salmon industry throughout coastal Alaska.

El always held the strong belief that the fish in the ocean were, and should always be, a public resource. He never reconciled this belief with the Limited Entry and I.F.Q. systems of fishery management that came later, which he believed recreated what he had fought so hard to abolish.

In the late '50s Els' lifelong friend, Lloyd Pedersen, was convinced money could be made fishing king crab in Southeast waters. El joined him in the quest and together on Lloyd's boat the Middleton they prospected for and found crab. The price was low, but they caught lots of crab. Soon other boats followed suit, and the southeast king crab industry was born. For many years El continued fishing king crab year round with Lloyd.

In 1973 Eldor bought the fishing boat Silver Crest and fished for halibut and salmon until he retired in 1999.

In his honor, state flags were lowered to half mast across the state for two days after his death.

Eldor is preceded in death by his parents Harold Sr. and Magnhild Lee and brothers Allen and Harold Jr. He is survived by his wife Polly Lee of Petersburg; daughter Robin Lee -Smith of Issaquah, Wash, son Eric Martin Lee of Petersburg; daughter Anne Henshaw and her husband Tyler Henshaw of Petersburg; grandchildren Andrea Lee Jordan and Tyler Smith; sister Ruth Powels and her husband Dave of San Ramone, Calif.; and several nieces and nephews.

Memorial donations may be made to the Clausen Memorial Museum, Box 708, Petersburg, AK 99833 , or the Alaska Marine Conservation Council P.O. Box 101145. Anchorage, AK, 99510.

At sea and on land, Eldor was a wise, kind and generous ship mate who touched the hearts of all who knew him. According to his wishes, a private scattering of his ashes will take place in the spring.

Reprinted with the permission of the Petersburg Pilot, March 21, 2002