Honoring Zeke Grader’s Legacy

Zeke Grader

Most folks reading this blog already know about the death of the inimitable William F. “Zeke” Grader, Jr., a legendary veteran of the fight to protect fishing communities and the fishing way of life. Zeke ended a long, vicious battle with pancreatic cancer earlier this month, throughout which he never lost his quintessential combination of tenacity, humor, and dedication to the fleet. As the head of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), Zeke spent almost 40 years fighting to ensure that there were fish enough to fish.

Zeke Grader fields questions from reporters at the San Francisco Presidio national park in 2009.
Zeke Grader fields questions from reporters at the San Francisco Presidio national park in 2009.

It was fitting that Zeke died on Labor Day. Not because he kept a collection of Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie CDs next to his desk and a Che Guevara flag draped across the wall of our copy room, or that he was throwing his hat in for Bernie Sanders. It was fitting because it might have been the first time he ever took a break from his work.

Protecting fish, fishermen, and fishing communities was Zeke’s passion, in every sense of that word. It consumed him. Larry Collins, a fisherman who sits on the boards of Zeke’s organizations, says that 6:00 AM was the best time to call Zeke at the office, because if it were any later he’d be on his way to Sacramento. Representative Mike Thompson, who has worked with Zeke on fisheries policy issues, said that 5:00 AM was a better time.

Born into a family deeply steeped in both politics and the fishing industry, Zeke had been around fisheries policy from the time he was a toddler on the dock. I have to imagine that when, as a newly minted lawyer he came on to run PCFFA, he was already well versed on the issues facing fishermen and the tools to address those issues at the regulatory and legislative levels.

Zeke Grader with Leon Panetta
Zeke Grader, left, and Leon Panetta.

But I think it was his dedication to the cause, rather than his training or background, that made Zeke such an effective representative of the fleet. His appeals were earnest and direct, and he never minced words. That candor, and his God-given charm, won him a lot of friends in the right places. And he was dedicated down to the littlest details – the man wore a fishhook tie clip whenever he was speaking to the public or a politician.

It worked. Zeke’s laundry list of accomplishments could go on for pages, but a couple stand out. He actually got the federal government to commit to doubling California’s Central Valley salmon populations. He helped institute critical fishing community protections in the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorizations. And he helped the fleet to understand that conserving some of the fish in the ocean today would result in fishing opportunities tomorrow, while at the same time helping the public understand that protecting riverine and marine environments is the same thing as protecting the fleet.

The lesson that I and all other fisheries policy advocates should take from all this is that it isn’t necessarily the amount of political ammunition or financial backing that makes an effective advocate. It’s hard work, dedication, and commitment to the cause. Zeke lived and breathed this work, and that’s how he got things done. It’s my honor to have been asked to carry on that legacy.

For more, be sure to read Lee Crockett’s appreciation of Zeke, published in July.

About Tim Sloane

Tim Sloane is executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and its sister organization, the Institute for Fisheries Resources

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