Making a comeback
Jerry Schill talks about what brought him to the North Carolina Fisheries Association, why he left and what drew him back in
By Maureen Donald
Abrasive, cantankerous, opinionated, argumentative, testy, single-minded, persistent, strong-willed, stubborn. That’s what Jerry Schill’s friends say about him. As president of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, he takes no exception to the description.
“I’ve been called much worse, many of which couldn’t be published,” Schill says. “It comes with the territory. And to do this job, you can’t for one minute think everyone will like you.”
In his role at the helm of the association, Schill is the chief advocate for the state’s commercial fishermen, displaying a deft hand at dealing with legislators for more than 20 years. Arguably one of the most effective lobbyists in Raleigh, Schill credits his success with simple principles.
“We don’t have big money behind us, but that doesn’t really matter in the long run. You can’t influence people with muscle or money,” Schill says. “It’s all about trust. It’s not as important if a person doesn’t agree with you than if they know you are telling the truth.
“NCFA didn’t start out as an organization in need of a lobbyist, it was all about promoting the state’s seafood resources.”
The organization was established in 1952 by a small group of dealers who recognized the need to protect fishing families and promote local seafood. For 35 years, the association did just that. Acting as the informal marketing arm of the industry, it promoted fresh, locally caught seafood while educating the general public. Additionally, the group took an active part on the federal level, representing the state’s stakeholders.
During these early trips to Washington, D.C., association officials met Schill, who at the time was providing a federal legislative service for businesses — a job that introduced him to the fisheries industry. Then in 1986 he ran for the Senate.
“I lost the election but ran a good campaign, and it was noted,” Schill says. “That turned out to change both my career and my life.”...