I first met Zeke when an unusual coalition of people from all around the U.S. involved in fisheries – both commercial and recreational fishing groups, environmental advocates, scientists, lawyers and more (normally most of these people wouldn’t even speak to each other) – came together to jointly promote changes to the nation’s main fisheries law, the Magnuson Stevens Act. It was no small feat, getting all these opinionated, notoriously adversarial people in a room to work on a common project.
Zeke was one of the group, and right away, I noticed he was serious about these issues, straightforward in his manner, and given the temperature in the room, brave about speaking up. He didn’t care what people thought of him – he cared that people thought about his issues and his position on them. His constant energy and famously entertaining quotes got him spots on big time TV like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the Sean Hannity Show, and also in many newspapers nationwide for years and years, raising awareness about important fisheries issues that likely otherwise would have been passed over.
I then learned Zeke was also a lawyer. Some people (mainly those he outsmarted in some political arena) would snarkily say “He’s a lawyer who thinks he’s a fisherman.” Turns out, he was really a fisherman who went to law school and was therefore better able to advocate for his friends, neighbors and fellow fishing families – oh, and the fish too. He was all about making sure our floppy friends went on living and reproducing for many years to come. I genuinely believe there would be no Pacific salmon today, but for the many efforts of Zeke Grader and friends.
His positive impacts were felt far and wide – in fact, Zeke helped create the Recirculating Farms Coalition.
One hot issue during the years that our unlikely coalition continued working together was development of fish farms in the ocean around the U.S. These would be giant floating cages filled with fish. There are a number of concerns with such an industry, including pollution from fish waste and excess fish feed falling through the cages, escapes of captive fish into the wild, intermixing with and perhaps causing illness or altering genetics of wild fish, the actual space these huge farms take up – making navigation and other problems for shipping, fishing and other ocean industries. And, notably, that these massive industrial farms can produce cheap fish – undercutting prices of seafood and hurting fishing families. Needless to say, Zeke was no fan.
We worked together to stop efforts to allow ocean fish farms in U.S. waters. Zeke had a lot of experience in the political arena and was happy to share and teach. He was an amazing mentor. When we were asked about what could be an acceptable alternative to ocean fish farms – we put forth recirculating fish farms (also called recirculating aquaculture) – the idea that fish could be produced on land in tanks in an eco-friendly way that didn’t hurt the ocean, or our fishing families.
Because recirculating farms are entirely closed loop – they recirculate waste and water within their own system, so a wide range of fish could be raised – especially those that do not conflict with what local fishermen catch. There is no pollution of the surrounding environment and no possibility of escapes. Additionally, turns out you can combine recirculating fish farming with hydroponics – raising plants in water – to create an amazing, innovative farming system, known as aquaponics. Support for this concept as an alternative to ocean fish farms grew – and Recirculating Farms Coalition was born.
Of course there is much more to this story all around – both relative to Zeke as an advocate and to the creation of RFC, but it would take pages and pages more to go through all the details. Rather than drag on, I’ll follow Zeke’s advice to me long ago – “keep it simple, so people understand.”
I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from Zeke when he was waxing poetic about the proposed ocean aquaculture bill that we ultimately killed in Congress many years ago. He told a reporter that he could sum up the bill in two words, “It sucks”. Couldn’t be any simpler, and that’s exactly what was printed in the paper the next morning.
That’s exactly how I feel about Zeke’s far-too-early departure too.