Yerman’s best catch: a cooperative effort between fishermen, offshore wind developers

His professional life began with Pepto Bismol and has ping-ponged its way between pneumatic sound, lobster traps and eminent domain.

Clearly, fellow fishermen are aware that when Gary Yerman, the Fleet Manager for Sea Services North America, offers counsel on the industry that has sustained him, the words come from a man with the wisdom carried by eclectic experiences.

“Fishing has been good for me,” Yerman said. “It’s been good for my family. I made a good living. And I thought, if I’m ever going to make a difference for the fishing industry in Connecticut and the fishermen in general, this is going to be where I can help to do it.”

Yerman, in the fishing industry for five decades, didn’t begin his career remotely close to it. He grew up 30 miles south of Syracuse, describing himself as a “country bumpkin from upstate New York.”

His first job at 19 was in a pharmaceutical place that made Pepto Bismol. He studied general agriculture for one year in college before getting married at 19 and moving to South Norwalk, Conn., as an apprentice machinist. The year was 1969.

“I had a pretty good background for machining and knew how to read blueprints,” Yerman said. “I went to work for a company in South Norwalk, Bolt Associates. They developed and manufactured Pneumatic Sound Sources for the purpose of oil exploration.”

It was there on the 65-foot steel research vessel that Yerman was introduced to Long Island Sound.

“The big oil companies were using it for seismic profiling,” he said. “It gave off these pneumatic sound pulses, an explosion that replaced dynamite. There was big controversy that they were scaring all the fish, kind of like the wind farm controversies of today. It’s amazing how 40 or 50 years later, it all comes around again.”

But something about the cool and bright clear waters inspired Yerman to buy four wooden lobster pots “with the thought of catching my own lobsters for Christmas dinner. And I got hooked.”

It wasn’t long until Yerman, 22 at the time, knew his true vocation.

“When I wasn’t busy working on projects, I just started fishing more. I put out more lobster pots. I went home one day and told my wife, ‘That’s it. I’m going fishing.’ I had a lot of keys on my belt from that company. I went down to the Norwalk River, took the keys off and threw them into the river.”

Yerman soon met a fisherman named Rick Saunders, partnering with him to fish for more than lobsters and occasionally jousting with other more experienced fishermen. He soon met members of the Castle family, proprietors of Lehigh Oil, the largest oil, gasoline and propane distributor in eastern Connecticut.

The Castle family owned property in the Fort Trumbull section of New London, near where Sea Services North America offices stand today. It eventually became New London Seafood.

“The Castle family treated us like gold,” Yerman said. “I mean, they were just the greatest people.”

Yerman soon became embroiled in what became an eminent domain issue that ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court. During the process, Yerman needed an attorney and met Gordon Videll, a prominent local attorney at the time – and now the CEO of SSNA.

Yerman, like most commercial fishermen, was contacted regularly by offshore wind developers regarding the pending development. He saw this as an opportunity to help fellow fishermen while others continued to fight against decisions that had already been made.

After an enormous effort to fact-check his understanding of the offshore wind industry, he decided to find a path of coexistence that could help fishermen meet their continued challenges.

The simple mission: increase safety and provide economic opportunity through a cooperative venture of highly skilled fishermen in the most affected ports.

“The safety standards for the fishing industry in this country are so low that I felt that it was a good opportunity to raise them,” Yerman said. “I was impressed with all the safety standards I used to see in Europe – that we don’t have here. I thought that we could help raise the bar for American fishermen on the backs of these wind farm companies. I figured my son (Scott, now a veteran fisherman) was going to get involved in this. We all know the financial challenges fishermen face and this allows struggling fishermen a great supplemental income.”