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Zeke Grader, Legendary Fish Advocate, Honored at Sausalito Gathering

by Dan Bacher
Zeke Grader has served as a relentless defender of fishing families and fishery restoration not only in California but across the world for over three decades. He developed a close working relationship with Indian Tribes and recreational anglers, as well as with environmentalists and human rights activists. I wish the best to Zeke and his family in his retirement!

Photo: Representative Jared Huffman and Zeke Grader display the Congressional Proclamation honoring Zeke for over three decades of advocating for fishery conservation. Photo by Dan Bacher.
Zeke Grader, Legendary Fish Advocate, Honored at Sausalito Gathering

by Dan Bacher

Hundreds of people attended an event honoring Zeke Grader, Executive Director of The Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations (PCFFA) and The Institute for Fisheries Resources (IFR) on Friday, April 10, at the Bay Model in Sausalito.

A number of special guests spoke at the celebration, including Representative Jared Huffman. Congressman Mike Thompson and former Congressman and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gave moving video tributes in recognition of Zeke’s many accomplishments, while members of his family told stories about Zeke’s adventures growing up in Fort Bragg, California.

Probably the most entertaining moment of the evening was when Linda Sheehan of the Earthlaw Center and her daughter, Maddie Sheehan, who is the Bingham Fellow at the Institute for Fisheries Resources, performed a humorous song about “Zeke, Our Hero,” to the accompaniment of a ukulele.

Zeke is so respected that people who were sometimes at odds with him, such as representatives of environmental NGOs who pushed through the privately funded Marine Life Protection (MLPA) Initiative, were there to honor him, as well as agency and water board officials that he has often clashed with. Charter boat skippers, recreational anglers and a who’s who of the fishing and environmental communities of California attended the event.

I have known Zeke for 30 years and admire him for his understanding of the big picture of fisheries and conservation in California and across the world. We both spoke together at an environmental forum in Oakland several years ago on the threats to fish, rivers and the ocean.

We worked closely together for the passage of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) of 1992, for the removal of Klamath dams, against the peripheral tunnels, against the approval of genetically engineered salmon, against the privatization of the oceans, and most recently, in the campaign opposing Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 1 water grab.

Zeke's organization also participated in the protests against the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999, as well as the protests and forums at the WTO Agricultural Ministerial in Sacramento in June 2003.

Whenever I wanted to get a good quote for a story, I would call Zeke. One of his best quotes was in 2006 when the Bush administration was trying to close down the salmon season in a cynical move to allegedly “protect” Klamath River.

Zeke famously pointed out that without efforts to address the root causes of the salmon fishery's decline, “Putting fish back into a river that's killing them makes as much sense as tossing virgins into a volcano."

I also called Zeke last year about his take on a bill sponsored by Senator Hannah Beth Jackson to protect a marine protected area, the Vandenberg State Marine Reserve, from oil drilling, due to loopholes in both the California Coastal Sanctuary Act and the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. Grader, who supported the bill, pointed out how the very need for the bill "highlights what a failure the MLPA Initiative was.”

“If these are true marine protected areas, they why are we allowing drilling and other insults to the ocean in them?” asked Grader. “The whole MLPA Initiative was a phony process that provided an opportunity for Big Green and government bureaucrats to write press releases claiming these were ‘protected areas’ when in reality the fishermen and Tribes got screwed. We should have bans on oil drilling in all of the marine protected areas."

Grader started as a youngster in the family seafood distribution and marketing business, the Grader Seafood Company in Fort Bragg, where in order to protect their resources, they began to think about sustainability in California - back in the 1950s. The salmon restoration effort toward sustainability started in California around 1956.

“If it wasn't for this early initiative, we might not have salmon in this state, because development pressures would have just destroyed the fish had there not been a consortium of commercial and sport fishermen,” commented Mary Jane Schramm, a spokesman for NOAA Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. “There weren’t many conservationists or fishery biologists around back then.”

Zeke Grader spoke at the event with usual great sense of humor. “My parents allowed me to be a free range child and they allowed me to pursue a free range career. My job was very easy and fun," he stated.

Zeke said he will be now breaking in his replacement as Executive Director, Tim Sloane.

“This has been an incredible run,” said Zeke.“This battle is not over year and we need to stay strong fighting.”

Congressman Mike Thompson commented in his video address, “As head of the PCFFA, he went to work defending fishing families. He was instrumental in the creation of the salmon stamp that has helped put back millions of salmon into the rivers and ocean.”

He also described Zeke’s incredible work ethic. “I could call him from Washington and Zeke would already be in his office at 5 am. If a fishing family in Eureka needed help, Zeke would get on the road at 2:00 am and come back to work in the office the same day,” said Thompson.

Zeke and members of fishing groups and Indian Tribes also accompanied Thompson to dump hundreds of dead, rotting salmon in front of the Secretary of Interior’s Office in Washington DC in September 2002 when the Bush regime killed over 80,000 salmon on the Klamath, according to Thompson.

“Zeke is an effective advocate for fishery families because he knows everything,” quipped Thompson. “Zeke, you put two lifetimes of work into one! Enjoy your well-earned retirement.”

Congressman Jared Huffman gave a history of Zeke’s accomplishments including stopping the expansion of offshore oil drilling the North Coast, the passage of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, and the lawsuit/settlement compelling the restoration of the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam. Zeke, a lawyer, was one of the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit when Huffman was a lawyer for NRDC.

Huffman focused on Zeke’s famous appearance on the Sean Hannity Show in 2009, when he crushed the shameless supporter of subsidized mega-farmers in a debate. (

Hannity wanted to interview an “environmental wacko,” but instead they got Zeke Grader, a defender of thousands of fishing industry jobs and the fish that they depend on, said Huffman. “Sean Hannity barely got a word in,” quipped Huffman, before he read part of the transcript of the show.

Zeke said, "Sean, I think what you have to realize is we're not just talking about the Delta smelt - we're also talking about salmon. These salmon are food - they provide jobs for people. You need to come up and provide some balance here. I want you come up to the North Coast, the place where I'm from, Fort Bragg, not one of your studios, Sean. You come up to Eureka and visit with the unemployed fishermen there and give this some balance. Because let me tell you - the Delta smelt did not cause the problem with those farmers."

Huffman also pointed out how when Zeke was asked to sign on to a letter by environmental NGOs, he would ask them “if the letter is tough enough.”

“If wasn’t tough enough, he wouldn’t sign it,” said Huffman.

Mary Jane Schramm pointed out that few people know that in addition to advocating for healthy fishing practices and sustainable uses of fisheries habitat, Zeke championed legislation to protect Great White Sharks, as a means of keeping this important predator as a natural system of "checks and balances" for seal and sea lion populations, which compete with fishermen for salmon and other fish.

Zeke has also worked with the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary to ensure that the local fishing community is valued as a Maritime Heritage resource, according to Schramm.

As somebody who has worked with Zeke for over 30 years on numerous issues, I salute him as a true modern day environmental hero with a no-nonsense attitude.

Zeke, a former Marine, has served as a relentless defender of fishing families not only in California but across the world, and developed a close working relationship with Indian Tribes and recreational anglers, as well as with environmentalists and human rights activists. I wish the best to Zeke and his family in his retirement!

The PCFFA, a federation of 25 different port and fishermen's marketing associations from San Diego to Alaska, is the largest trade association of commercial fishermen on the West Coast. Grader has been its executive director for over three decades and has been involved in the fishing industry his entire life.
§Zeke and family
by Dan Bacher
Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the PCFFA, is surrounded by his family at the event honoring him in Sausalito on April 10. Photo by Dan Bacher.
§Zeke speaks
by Dan Bacher
Zeke speaks briefly after the program of speakers honoring him. Photo by Dan Bacher.
§Linda Sheehan
by Dan Bacher
Linda Sheehan and her daughter, Maddie Sheehan, sing a song about Zeke Grader, "Our Hero." Photo by Dan Bacher.
§Felix Smith
by Dan Bacher
Felix Smith, Save the American River Association Board Member and the US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who was the whistleblower in the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge scandal, was one of hundreds of people who attended the program honoring Zeke Grader. Photo by Dan Bacher.
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Joey Racano
Tue, Apr 14, 2015 2:51PM
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