Don Young, dean of the US House and avid supporter of the fishing industry, dies at 88

U.S. Representative Don Young, the Republican from Alaska who served as the state’s only congressman for nearly half a century, died suddenly on Friday, March 18, 2022. He was 88.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, Young fell unconscious on a flight back to Alaska and could not be revived.

“We have lost a giant we loved dearly and who always held Alaska in his heart,” U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in a statement. “Don was coming home to the place he loved and the people who loved him the most. We love you Don.

Born in California on June 9, 1933, Young moved to Alaska in 1959 – the same year it became a state. He would work as a teacher, construction worker, tugboat captain and commercial fisherman.

He entered politics a few years later, first as mayor of Fort Yukon, a small outpost about 140 miles from Fairbanks. Young then served in the Alaska House and Senate before winning a special election in March 1973 to succeed Nick Begich, who had disappeared while flying in the state six months earlier.

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) called Young a “friend and mentor” and credited him with shaping “the Alaska we know and love today,” in a statement.

“His spirit – genuine, tenacious, indomitable, a man of the people – embodied our great state to such a degree that there was a sense that he would always be with us, that he would live forever,” Sullivan said.

As the only member of Congress from the nation’s largest seafood-producing state by volume, Young wielded considerable influence over federal seafood policy and legislation. This included the Magnuson- Stevens, the first federal fisheries management law — which he co-authored — which passed in 1976. The bill has since been reauthorized twice, the last updated in 2006.

National Fisheries Institute President John Connelly said in a statement that Young was known for his “colorful” remarks, but no one ever doubted his passion. This included the seafood industry, as Young was also “a champion of Alaskan fishing” and a “staunch supporter and defender” of federal law.

“His commitment to fisheries management was acclaimed far from the bountiful waters of the state he represented,” Connelly said.

A spokesperson for U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-California) told SeafoodSource on Monday, March 21 that Huffman, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee’s Water, Oceans and Wildlife Committee, met with Young a few days before his death to discuss a proposed reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Huffman called the “crusty, conservative” youngster a friend whose death leaves a “big hole in the institution of Congress,” in a statement he posted on Facebook on Saturday. Huffman also posted a photo of the two together on a boat.

“Don was larger than life: a political legend who served with 10 presidents, he did everything in his own iconic way, loved Alaska deeply, and was just plain fun to be around,” Huffman said. “We could have a big fight and then laugh it off and go fishing together no problem… I met him for an hour just a few days ago and we had the usual sparring over some political issues before settling on common ground on a big fisheries bill. I will miss him dearly and am honored to have been able to serve with him for the past 10 years.

Young’s replacement will now come from a series of special elections that Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy will have to schedule. Alaska Public Media reported that the primaries could be scheduled for May or June, with a special general election to fill the seat potentially on Aug. 16, the day of the state’s normal primary.

Photo courtesy of US Representative Don Young’s office

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