Do you know how to write and submit an op-ed to a major national media organization? Do you have both the time to send letters with studies to obscure federal regulators and the connections to turn the response into a (supposedly) exclusive news story? Probably not! This is why public relations (PR) professionals exist, but they usually don't work for free.
Recently, we’ve seen an intriguing string of articles centered on a fisherman named Jerry Leeman, who's either the world's most media-savvy fisherman running a ship and a lobbying campaign all on his own, or is the newest face of a complex, high-profile fossil-driven PR campaign against offshore wind.
Leeman's turn from catching fish to talking about wind power hurting fish seems to have taken place over the course of the last year. His first brush with fame was in May 2022, when his orca sighting off Cape Cod went viral. Just two months later, though, things took a more serious turn when Leeman's struggle to make ends meet fishing was documented in a story about how private equity is exploiting New England's fishing fleet.
It turns out that Leeman doesn't own his own boat, and can't, because regulations to stop overfishing were exploited and monopolized by private equity companies like Blue Harvest, which leave Leeman making only 14 cents per pound of fish (7 cents for the crew) compared to the market rate of $2.28 per pound. The concentration of capital is hurting small fishers like him, not "the conservation groups" he blames for protecting the fish populations he relies on.
Unfortunately, it is not the bosses that are exploiting his labor that he's mad at. In December 2022, the harried fisherman somehow found the time to draft and submit an op-ed to The New Bedford Light, in which he blames regulations for his struggles.
It’s safe to say that his article wasn't exactly convincing, as the outlet then published a barrage of responses from readers. Someone who "fished back in the '80s when they had no limits" admitted that they "wiped out the cod fish stock in a couple of years," and another reader simply asked if Leeman had "heard of overfishing?" Scott Furtado was the real hero, though, pointing out at the start of a lengthy rebuttal that while Leeman claimed to have no vested interest, that’s not actually true at all. "You have no vested interest except that it’s your job," countered Furtado, "which is exactly what vested interest means."
Through the winter, Leeman posted regularly on Facebook, and recently the next stage of Leeman's newfound media side-hustle began. On March 9, The Daily Caller quoted Leeman in a story attacking Biden's budget. "Offshore wind will put American fishermen out of business," Leeman claimed, “Fishermen can weather a lot, but we can’t handle this.”
Nine days later, Leeman had an op-ed in none other than Fox News, claiming in the headline, “I'm a fishing boat captain. Green energy companies, government want to put me out of business.” After lots of complaining about factors unrelated to private equity giving him a raw deal, Leeman describes his harsh life of being "at sea year-round for seven to ten days at a time," which "means handling 15-foot swells in subzero temperatures for hours at a time." He concludes with a note that "the work is grueling and relentless" and that he "once woke up laying on the ceiling" of the boat that had been capsized by a wave.
It’s impressive, then, that he had the time to draft this op-ed, find the editor at Fox News to whom he should pitch it, and work through the fact-checking and editing process.
Similarly impressive is Leeman's seemingly single-handed lobbying efforts. His latest Daily Caller hit indicates that he is keeping a close watch on the scientific literature of offshore wind and fishing, as in December he sent the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) a letter pointing to a recent study on High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) power cables. NEFMC responded in January to say they're aware of the study and the "concerning implications for the possible effects" of HVDC on baby fish. Leeman then handed that over to The Daily Caller to claim in the headline an "exclusive" that a "federal regulator acknowledges danger to wildlife caused by offshore wind farms."
Among more obvious and serious failings, we'll just point out it's not published as an "exclusive" to the DC, as Leeman posted it publicly to his Facebook back in January, so the very first word of the Caller's headline is a lie.
Now, it's perfectly possible that Leeman's got exceptional abilities to coordinate media releases while battling 15-foot swells from the ceiling of his upside down boat. Much more likely, though, is that the forces coordinating anti-offshore wind activism saw his viral video, laid some bait, and now thoroughly have their hooks in Jerry Leeman.