By: Steve Rubenstein
San Francisco Chronicle
Zeke Grader, a lifelong conservationist who loved wild fish, wild rivers and the good fight necessary to protect them, has died. He was 68.
“You would probably not be eating a wild California salmon today if it were not for Zeke,” said his friend Tim Sloane, the executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “He was not afraid of speaking truth to power. He wasn’t afraid of anyone.”
Mr. Grader, 68, died Monday night of pancreatic cancer at a San Francisco hospice.
From 1976 until this summer, Mr. Grader held the executive director position for the federation, the largest trade group of commercial fishermen on the West Coast. He represented commercial fishermen in their efforts to keep streams and rivers flowing, the San Francisco Bay healthy, and wild salmon and other native fish plentiful and viable.
In the constant battle over California water, Mr. Grader frequently fought with agricultural and commercial interests that he believed were laying claim to more than their fair share.
He worked on such projects as dismantling dams, protecting habitat, assisting out-of-work fishermen and maintaining critical water flows. He took on timber harvesters, suction dredge miners and petroleum polluters. “You cannot overstate how much he accomplished in legislation and policy,” Sloane said. “There would be no commercial salmon industry in California if not for his efforts.”
Former Monterey congressman and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta praised Mr. Grader for his “critical leadership in the fight for strong stewardship of our ocean resources. ... His common sense, his total devotion to those he represents and his commitment to getting the job done have given all of us courage and inspiration.”
His friend and fellow conservationist Patricia Schifferle said Mr. Grader “wasn’t afraid to take on big agriculture and industry to protect our resources.”
“Because of him, we have protections in San Francisco Bay and in our estuaries,” said Schifferle, the director of Pacific Advocates in Truckee. “He was fair-minded when he came to the table. But he was not afraid of a fight. He was a man who stood up for fish.”
A lawyer by training who wound up making the king salmon his primary client, Mr. Grader was a short, blond, stocky man who loved good food, scally caps, vintage cars and strolls on Northern California beaches with family, friends or his beloved cocker spaniel, Emily.
He spoke plainly and bluntly, and one friend said Mr. Grader had an unparalleled “BS detector.” His favorite food was salmon, although, Sloane said, he would settle for petrale sole.
He put in long hours, and his friends knew that he was often too busy working to be bothered. If you wanted to be sure to catch Mr. Grader on the phone, Sloane said, you had to call him around sunrise, when his workday started.
Mr. Grader, the son of a fish broker, was a native of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County. He spent much of his childhood on the Fort Bragg docks, helping fishermen unload their catches. He was a graduate of Sonoma State University and the University of San Francisco School of Law and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.