It’s with great sadness that the Golden Gate Salmon Association announces the passing of Captain Roger Thomas from pancreatic cancer. Thomas passed Tuesday morning with his lifelong friend and partner Captain Jacky Douglas at his side.
Roger Thomas was captain of the charter boat Salty Lady, a member of the California Outdoor Hall of Fame, and a lifelong advocate to keep west coast salmon fisheries alive and sustainable. Everyone knew him to be an honorable and remarkable man, a friend, mentor and colleague. In a recognition he received from the US Congress in May, he was found to be “one of the most decent and hard-working human beings one can know”.
Born in Gilroy, California, he started fishing at an early age for striped bass from the beaches along Monterey Bay and later for salmon from a small boat launched at the Monterey Pier. He was hooked on salmon fishing and became a regular customer on charter boats out of San Francisco. He worked as a deckhand on a charter boat and later got his own captain’s license in 1968.
He represented the charter boat fleet boats from Fort Bragg to Monterey as President of the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association from 1973 until this year. He was the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, a coalition of commercial and recreational fishermen and others that works to protect and restore Central Valley salmon habitat. For 14 years, he served on the Pacific Fisheries Management Council which, among other duties, sets the ocean salmon seasons. Roger was a member of the Bay Delta Advisory board, the Winter Run-Captive Broodstock Committee, the Central Valley Fisheries Coalition, the Marine Advisory Committee to the Secretary of Commerce, the Coastal Resources Foundation, the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, the National Sea Grant Review Panel and the Marine Resources Committee.
Victor Gonella, founder of GGSA, remembers Roger Thomas as a man that touched his life deeply. “From his fishing expertise to his constant grace under pressure in adverse conditions while fighting for salmon, Roger was always a true gentleman. Both at the state and federal level, including his many trips to Washington DC, he represented California salmon interests. For over 40 years Roger made a major difference in maintaining our California salmon stocks and the sustainable harvest they allow. Roger was a true salmon hero.”
In addition to salmon fishing out of Sausalito and Half Moon Bay, Roger ran whale watching and nature trips that introduced thousands of children and adults to the magic of marine life. He spent more than 10,000 days on the ocean where he shared his deep knowledge and appreciation of the natural world. He was one of the last to see San Joaquin Spring run chinook salmon before they went extinct after construction of the Friant Dam.
Roger was a familiar face in Congress where he represented the interests of the charter boat fleet and the health of west coast salmon stocks for decades.
Commercial salmon fisherman Chris Lawson said, “When I first met Roger, I was a kid working on my uncle’s party boat. Once I started commercial fishing, anytime there was a crisis in the industry, he was always there campaigning. He was a champion of the fisheries, always there hammering for the fisheries, for everyone. He’s going to be missed.”
“Roger could have stayed home but instead whenever he wasn’t fishing he was traveling and working on behalf of the rest of us who fish salmon,” said GGSA executive director John McManus. “He was a great inspiration to me and many others.”
In the 1980s, he was appointed by then Vice President George Bush to the National Sea Grant Review Panel. In this role he traveled to ports around the country and helped decide which projects were worthy and would be funded.
Roger was instrumental in helping pass the 1992 Central Valley Improvement Act, a key law to protect salmon and the Bay Delta. When salmon populations collapsed in 2008 and 2009, Roger worked closely with Congress to successfully provide disaster relief to salmon fishermen.
Roger Thomas’ tireless work earned him the respect and adoration of countless people up and down the west coast and across the country. He will be sorely missed.
GGSA secretary Dick Pool, who partnered with Roger on salmon issues for over 30 years, said, “Roger was an iconic leader in the management and enhancement of West Coast salmon and other marine fish. He spent a lifetime working to improve the conditions for the fish and for fishermen. His work and legacy will last for many decades into the future.”