Zeke Grader. Photo: PCFFA and courtesy of Sara Randall.
“There are many good fishermen and great ones. But there is only you.” I couldn’t image a better quote than this, from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”, to capture the spirit and incomparable nature of Zeke Grader. Grader, the former executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and the Institute of Fisheries Resources (IFR), died September 7th, next to his beloved San Francisco Bay, after a long illness.
In the world of protecting fish and the communities that depend on healthy ocean ecosystems, very few have been able to navigate the tricky waters of sustainable fishing, as well as Zeke has. As a lawyer and fisherman hybrid, Zeke moved easily amongst all the players, from radical conservationists to salty, old-timer fishermen. I fall somewhere in the middle of the two. When I first met Zeke over fifteen years ago at a sustainable seafood meeting, he initially gave me the party line of PCFFA. But after I recounted my over 180 days at sea as a fisheries observer, my ‘sea legs’ cred rose and we became fast friends and colleagues.
Zeke’s mission was to protect fish, fishery habitat and fishing heritage along the West Coast. Coming from a multi- generational fishing family, he believed in the importance and contribution of commercial fishing to coastal culture and economies. But he wasn’t just saving the fish for the fishermen or the consumer. He was saving the fish for the bear up the river that needs fish to feed her cubs, for the birds that depend on fish roe for survival, and for the river that allows all life to flow and thrive.
Zeke, seen here with former NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, IFR president Pietro Parravano, Sara Randall and Paul Johnson. Zeke received many awards over the years including the Environmental Hero Award from NOAA. Photo courtesy of Michael Sutton – former president, California Fish & Game Commission.
One of my graduate school friends, Natasha Benjamin, had the privilege of working with Zeke as a former program director of IFR, and she contributed to this story. Natasha joined the team in 1999 and together they helped IFR expand their portfolio from projects based just in California, to protection of salmon habitat and other fisheries along the entire West Coast. Also, they worked on environmental standards for aquaculture and legislation for seafood labeling.