In Memory of William “Zeke” Grader (1947–2015)

Zeke Grader

A passionate champion for fish, fishermen and sustainable ocean management has died. Zeke Grader was a trailblazer and he devoted his life to protecting fish for fisherman and consumers mostly by creating sustainable fishing laws and policies that protected the health of our oceans, waterways, and aquaculture operations. Influenced by his father who served as undersecretary of the California Resources Agency, Zeke was drawn to law and environmental policy, but found that his heart was with the plight of fishermen. He founded the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Association and was its president for 39 years.

Despite his close association with fishermen, Zeke courageously challenged the popular approach of overfishing for more sustainable policies. He tirelessly fought to promote policies to protect and sustain ocean resources with legislation that included unpopular fishing bans and catch limits, but in the long run, improved ocean fisheries. “He was one of a kind,” said Chuck Wise, a retired Bodega Bay fisherman and former president of the federation, an umbrella group for commercial fishermen’s associations from San Diego to Alaska. Without the environmental protections Grader fought to secure, the fishing industry “would probably be kaput,” Wise said.

A lawyer, lobbyist and former Marine Corps reservist, Grader was instrumental in helping adopt laws to protect California salmon and its food source – krill. “Zeke was for decades a tireless fish warrior,” said William Stelle Jr., West Coast regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service. “Tough as nails, blunt spoken and full of life, he leaves us better, stronger and in a changed place because of his accomplishments.”

Grader’s master stroke, friends said, lay in forging an alliance between environmentalists, a generally urban group, and blue-collar fishermen, two forces that were at odds in the 1960s and ’70s as the California salmon population was in decline and fishermen were widely blamed for hooking too many of them.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said Grader was among the plaintiffs in a case filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and initially handled by Huffman, charging the federal government with operating a dam that dried up miles of the San Joaquin River in the Central Valley. A settlement in 2006 included an agreement to restore a 153-mile stretch of the river.

These are but a few of Zeke’s accomplishments and without him our California Pacific coast fisheries would be severely depleted or collapsed. We tip our caps to Zeke and mourn the loss of an important conservationist and protector of fishery resources.

The Resource Renewal Institute has produced two videos from Huey Johnson’s interview with Zeke. One is titled “The Truth on Aquaculture” and the other is “Bridging the Communal Divide”. I hope you will take a few minutes to watch these short videos.

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