Randy Fry, the leading voice of western recreational fishing interests, was killed by a great white shark while diving for abalone near Fort Bragg, California, on August 15, 2004. As Western Regional Director for the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a grass roots political lobbying organization, Fry was successful in advancing fisheries interests and bridging the often acrimonious commercial and recreational dichotomy. Among his many accomplishments, Fry was instrumental in convincing the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to add a recreational fishing representative to its advisory council. Sanctuary spokesperson Rachel Saunders said the Sanctuary initially offered only a single seat to the commercial and recreational fishing communities because the recreational anglers weren’t engaged in the Sanctuary process. RFA, through Fry, sought and won greater involvement in the decision making process on behalf of recreational anglers when the Sanctuary began considering passage of marine protected areas where all fishing would be off-limits. In 2003 Fry was appointed to the federal fishery management panel on groundfish, including important species to the recreational nearshore fishery. Fry also led the appointment of Darrell Ticehurst to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which sets most saltwater fishing regulations.
Following a successful “Fish Fry” in Noyo Harbor on Saturday to raise additional funds and new members in support of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, Fry, together with longtime friend Cliff Zimmerman and Red Bartley, President of the California Striped Bass Association and a board member of RFA’s NorCal chapter, spent Sunday afternoon fishing from Zimmerman’s boat in northcoast waters for salmon and lingcod. Once they reached the Kibesillah Rock area near 10 mile beach, they decided to anchor and free dive for red abalone. Zimmerman and Fry were old friends and diving partners and each had more than 30 years of free diving experience on the coast. Diving in 15-20 feet of water, with Bartley aboard the 28 foot boat Dolphin to observe, Fry and Zimmerman were in the water for only 15-20 minutes when Fry was attacked by a 16-18 foot great white shark. According to the Department of Fish and Game, there have been 106 shark attacks along the California coast in the past 50 years, 10 of them fatal. The last fatal attack occurred in 2003 in San Luis Obispo County. Fry’s body was recovered a day later by the Coast Guard in the ocean near the site of the attack. Celebrations of Randy’s life will be held in many California ports in early September.
Fishing in the ocean was Randy’s hobby, passion, and career. “Randy was really instrumental in organizing recreational anglers,” said Sonke Mastrup, deputy director of the Wildlife and Inland Fisheries division of the state Department of Fish and Game. “He was a uniter,” said Bob Franko, president of the Coastside Fishing Club in El Granada. “He loved fishing and he loved the ocean.”