IntraFish has done its share of interesting interviews, but you never know where our sources will end up. Corey Lewandowski, controversial campaign manager for Donald Trump's presidential bid, was in 2003 the executive director of the New England Seafood Producers Association (NESPA). Here's our exclusive interview with him.
Corey Lewandowski is arguably charged with one of the most difficult jobs in the United States: to promote - and defend – New England’s beleaguered seafood industry.
As the newly hired executive director of the New England Seafood Producers Association (NESPA), Lewandowski needs to promote the region’s seafood products against a barrage of anti-seafood rhetoric from environmental groups and push back on severe regulations heaped on the fishing industry.
NESPA is a non-profit organization representing the interests of New England’s shoreside seafood industry, which provides a greater overall economic contribution to the New England economy than the high-tech industry.
In an exclusive interview with IntraFish Lewandowski outlined his plans for successfully doing just that.
“NESPA is advocating for less government regulations and a common sense approach to the fishing industry,” he said.
NESPA was formed in the spring of 2002 in order to defend and promote the seafood industry’s “historical right to harvest and process seafood in New England as well as educate consumers on the benefits that come from consuming seafood.”
An early press release characterized NESPA’s mission "to provide accurate and truthful information to consumers at a time when New England’s seafood industry is receiving significant media attention."
Lewandowski is charged with managing all aspects of NESPA’s operations, including growing the membership, marketing the group and building strong bonds with state and federal politicians to ensure the New England seafood industry gets a fair shake in the development of regulations.
Lewandowski is no stranger to the complexities of the fishing industry. Before joining NESPA, he was communications director for the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, advising former Senator Robert Smith (R-NH) and other committee members on policy and legislation relative to fishery issues and funding. Prior to that he served as Ohio Congressman Robert W. Ney’s principal point of contact for the White House and Republican National Committee and the media.
During the latest presidential campaign, Lewandowski was spokesman for the George W. Bush for President Campaign in the 18th Congressional District in Ohio, organizing two rallies in which Governor Bush participated.
“NESPA is already doing the right things to have their voice heard in both Wash., D.C. and at the state level,” Lewandowski said. “And that’s something the seafood industry has, traditionally, not been as successful as they could have been.”
Lewandowski outlined three specific actions NESPA has undertaken since its inception that have boosted the profile of the industry it serves.
“The first thing NESPA did was to build a positive public relations campaign about the seafood industry as a whole,” he explained.
From marketing initiatives complete with logos to a coming-out party featuring a seafood cook off with local celebrities, Lewandowski credits the founding board members of NESPA for starting off on the right foot.
Secondly, a delegation of NESPA board members traveled to the nation’s capital “to get re-acquainted with their federal elected officials”, Lewandowski said.
Finally, at the local level, NESPA members are mobilizing firms, employees and even family members to reach out to local politicians and educate them on what current federal regulations are doing to the industry and the officials’ constituency.
“These three actions will help the industry as a whole and help NESPA continue to grow and bring new members to the organization,” he said.
By building strong ties with New England’s congressional delegation, Lewandowski hopes to secure the necessary funds to promote the industry.
Lewandowski pegs the value of the shore side seafood industry in New England at $5 billion annually in terms of what it brings to the regional economy
“If the [federal government] continues to impose the strict and stringent regulations onto NESPA members and these people go out of business there will be a massive downturn in the economy in New England,” he said. "We’re talking about a gigantic industry and the ramifications really couldn’t even be measured.”
Lewandowski is hoping that by continuing to build relationships with federal and state politicians, when such regulations are proposed those officials would turn to NESPA for guidance and then, in turn, educate their colleagues in the Senate and the House.
“The political influence this industry can have is immeasurable in New England,” he said.
The new executive director wants NESPA to be “the voice of reason” when new regulations come down or new studies come out “to give the real side of the issue,” he said.
“A lot of times people don’t understand because they get a one sided story,” he said, referring to the influence environmental groups have with consumers.
“When Pew Charitable Trust comes out with a new study and [its chairman] Leon Panetta starts talking about it, there’s no response from the organized fishing community,” he explained. “And it’s important to do that; to be the voice of reason and rational thought when these absurd studies come out.”
“We have to be aggressive in getting our message out,” he said.
That message, he explained, is that fish is “safe and sound” to eat and that it’s not being overfished.
But going head-to-head with the well-financed environmental juggernaut can be a daunting task.
“The environmental groups traditionally play on people’s emotions."
So how does the new executive director hammer that message home to consumers?
“It’s an educational process,” he explained.
Lewandowski then ticked off the mediums necessary to put NESPA’s message in front of the consumer, including print, radio and even television ads.
Grass roots initiatives such as a Letter-to-the-Editor campaign and direct mail campaign and even “direct phone contact” with New England consumers.
Already, NESPA knows consumers are on their side.
Last November, the group unveiled results of a poll of 500 New England residents over the age of 21 from Maine to New York where two-thirds of respondents said the seafood industry is “very important” to the regional economy - 88 percent said the industry was at least “fairly important”.
“NESPA is now going to be proactive in going after federal grant money for the New England fishing community that have long gone to the Western part of the country – the Alaskan fishing industry,” Lewandowski said.
Of course, it all depends on how much money the group can secure from the feds.
So, what’s the price tag for Lewandowski’s plans?
He points to the “massive sum” of $10 million in marketing funds granted to the Alaskan fishing industry last year as an example of what could be available in federal funds to New England’s industry.
“The media market in Boston, I can assure you, is much larger than the media market in Alaska, and it’s much more expensive,” he said. “But if we had a respective $5 million in federal funds allotted to do a positive PR campaign with a well-crafted, 30-second commercial that we could repeat to a point where people would recognize it and cite it, then people would say, ‘Well, this has to make sense.’”
“Some of the regulations that have been imposed on the fishing industry [in New England] - and our members - have just been crazy and done with faulty science at the taxpayers expense,” he said. “And then [environmental groups] engage in a public relations campaign to scare people from eating fish.”
Lewandowski is referring to the controversy emerged in September, when regulators acknowledged using uneven cables to tow a research net that collected fish samples between winter 2000 and spring 2002. Fishermen said towing a net at an angle would clearly reduce the catch, and the count, and that Friday's report contradicted common sense.
“Let’s be candid. We’re not overfishing,” he said. “The fact is, if the fishermen are going to overfish the ocean then we all would be out of business. That’s the reality of life. If there’s no more fish in the ocean, we can’t make a living as NESPA.”
“Some areas have taken longer to recover, I don’t think anyone is going to deny that,” he said. “But when you bring in 10,000-20,000 pounds of cod a day out of one particular area, it’s not that there are no fish out there. That’s just not the case.
“So, we have a vested interest to make sure that everything is done through sound science and logic,” he said. “Listen, we’ve got to be doing something right,” he explained. “We’ve been [fishing] for 400 years [in New England] and we haven’t run out of fish yet.”