Zeke Grader

Bridging the Communal Divide

Recorded: February 4, 2014

Following in his father's footsteps in the California wild salmon industry, Zeke Grader initially formed a group called Salmon Unlimited that brought together fisherman and conservationists to develop creative ways to protect and preserve salmon fisheries in the west.  A passionate activist for commercial fishermen, Zeke is also well versed in ocean ecology. He discusses important issues such as preditor-prey relationships, and how the small crustacean, krill, plays an important role in the ocean food chain. With the encouragement and support by Zeke's nonprofit organizations, legislators were able to get the nation's first krill ban in the Pacific Ocean.

William F. “Zeke” Grader created the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman in 1976 and has served as its Executive Director since that time. His leadership at the Federation has resulted in the implementation of federal safeguards to bring greater protection to our marine resources and to restore weakened fisheries.  Zeke is currently Executive Director of The Institute for Fishery Resources in San Francisco, CA (www.ifrfish.org). Zeke received the Environmental Hero Award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1998.


Huey Johnson:    Work you’ve done over the years has been especially important to someone like myself as an ardent salmon fishermen, and you’ve been working as your father before you as I recall, as a spokesperson in the fishing industry on the West Coast.

Zeke Grader:    Well, yes I did.  I actually followed, in many respects, my father’s footsteps, not really meaning to, but it just sort of happened.  He had really gotten involved in California salmon politics about 1956 when the state legislature at that time was looking  at closing the historic net fishery–salmon net fishery–on the [San Francisco] Bay and Delta.  And of course that had dated back to the gold rush days and those salmon helped feed some of the miners headed for the gold fields.


Zeke Grader:    I think at that time because the fishery was beginning to see some real impact from the federal water projects, as well as some of the impacts on some of the smaller dam operations that had, over the course of time, blocked off so much habitat.  At that point, both the commercial and the ocean recreational fishermen were feeling that, well, they were going to be next so they formed something called Salmon Unlimited and began work of actually working together, which I think was something of a first having those groups working on the same side.  But I think they began to realize their common interests and not just fighting over a shrinking pie, but trying to expand the pie.  We made as an organization, began some very early alliances with the conservation community.  And with so much of interest, you of course, that was heresy.  You know you don’t go mix with those people, but we found we had a sort of diversity, that, of many different viewpoints, and I think that really helped us.  That, and like I say, I think some real leaders here because California was a leader in the Environmental Movement and I think a much more willingness to work together.

Huey Johnson:    I agree on salmon.  I’d be interested in your thoughts on the ocean, the other species you have to manage, whether you do or not. But in recent times, we’re getting indicators that we have overdone the consumption of some of the denison’s of the ocean How can we deal with that?

Zeke Grader:    Well, we’d gotten involved in the–I think, I think there was always sort of an awareness under the surface by many of our, many of my membership, about the predator/prey relationships, the other relationships of the fish.  I can never forget that I was approached with the idea of protecting the krill.  That made good sense because krill of course were very important for [unintelligible, both talking].

Huey Johnson:    Describe what a krill is.

Zeke Grader:    Krill is a Euphausia, it’s a very small shrimplike creature and a number of animals feed on them, including young salmon.  In fact they help give the red color to salmon meat, that deep red color when salmon are feeding on them.  And they’re probably much more important to salmon than say some of the larger fish, such as sardine or herring because the krill are very small.  So particularly for young fish, it’s an important food source.  But they’re also important for everything from various sea birds to whales, so I think we decide, yeah, its time to act.  Let’s make sure that it doesn’t happen, because if it did, it would be that much harder than to close it or restrict it, so we did enact that.  And again, I think California was the first state to do it.

Huey Johnson:    Wonderful.

Zeke Grader:    We had a–you know, a good member in the legislature, plus we had support from the conservation community and commercial fishing community.  And I think probably the rec community–recreational fishing community–to an extent, was also aware of it, was all supportive.  So we were able to get those through and then subsequently the Pacific Council acted, so the krill ban is now on the whole of the West Coast, and of course, we’ve seen further actions to try and protect many of our shark species.  So we’ve been looking at both–the very base of the ocean food chain and the very top of it.

Huey Johnson:   Very significant point you made, in the history of management was the cooperation. Where instead of this singular issue, my issue is it– starting to cooperate.  And if we could just get the bird watchers and the hunters and a handful of others who are still struggling around, it would be a very powerful force.