Of the many threats to sustainable fisheries and marine ecosystems off the coast of California, none is more threatening than bottom trawling. Trawling, fishing by dragging enormous nets with weighted feet across the bottom of the ocean – is a destructive practice that dredges up the ocean floor and produces “by-catch,” unintended species that are caught in trawl nets, and then thrown overboard, dead or dying.
Strong opposition to changing the destructive practice came from commercial fisherman, an influential and wealthy lobbying group. In response, the United Anglers Marine Resource Conservation Program (UAMRCP) was established to advance a policy change. Porter Novelli Sacramento was hired to create and create momentum for a 501 © 4 non-profit organization aimed at advocating, educating and building awareness with key audiences.
Porter Novelli’s objectives for this campaign included: establish UAMRCP as a highly credible awareness-raising and advocacy organization for protecting marine ecosystems and develop legislation to restrict, oversee and eventually stop bottom trawling off the California coast to preserve the delicate ecosystems of marine habitats
The campaign faced fierce resistance from the state’s coastal regions, specifically Santa Barbara, Ventura and Eureka, due to the area’s economic dependence on the fishing industry—with local papers also wary. We needed to overcome the misconception that a policy change would give California a competitive disadvantage, and potentially eliminate fishing altogether. Further, it is unusual for the environmental and sport-fishing groups to agree, but it was critical to have their support. Without a strong coalition of broad-based support, success would be impossible.
With this backdrop, Porter Novelli undertook extensive research to obtain the science “behind” bottom trawling to provide support for messages. Porter Novelli also conducted a statewide survey and obtained opposition research regarding the issue. This research helped shape the drafting of legislation. Studies found the public knowledgeable regarding trawling activity and evidence showed that alterations to trawl gear could dramatically reduce seafloor damage. Also, scientific research revealed that bottom trawling destroys marine ecosystems at a rate of 150 times the current rate of destruction of the earth’s forest, stifling biodiversity and harmful to the food chain. The research afforded Porter Novelli an opportunity to work towards legislative solutions with the UAMRCP bill’s author, Senator Dede Alpert (D-San Diego)
The winning strategy was to simplify the bottom trawling issue by clearly defining it as destructive to the ocean’s environment and reinforcing the economic and resource benefits that Californians and commercial fishermen stand to gain by regulating it.
To assist UAMRCP in its goals, the campaign targeted California Gov. Schwarzenegger (specifically by targeting his concern for the environment) and the State Legislature – the ultimate “end” audiences, environmental groups and organizations, specifically Oceana, National Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club, media, including the State Capitol Press Corps, environmental reporters, editorial writers, and trade publications, California Coastal Commission members, outdoor enthusiasts and naturalists, United Anglers members, Coastal residents.
The effort sought mold public opinion to view bottom trawling as a devastating practice that must be regulated, and refute the idea that regulation will be harmful to the commercial fishing industry; create momentum for regulating bottom trawling by empowering grassroots audiences to advocate that fisheries and marine ecosystems be preserved for future generations; and focus efforts on locations where the maximum benefit would be derived, reaching out to the public to build coalition support and influencing legislators in key coastal districts.
The effort would build media awareness, utilizing California media to drive messages to the public and legislators, use scientific research to legitimize the issue with a “you can’t argue with good science” approach; bring forth legislation that is sound and cooperative, to gain legislative, public and environmental group support; and build alliances with environmental groups and state agencies.
Proper alignment of alliances, creation of an effective political environment, and the timing of the application of strategies were critical to the success of the campaign. Porter Novelli strategy was to create a “Stop Bottom Trawling” campaign to build momentum for action, backed by education, growing awareness, and grassroots support, support the drafting and advancement of Senate Bill 1459.
The firm coordinated with the author Sen. Dede Alpert and Oceana to encourage support for the bill, worked with coalition partners to develop sound legislation that preserves fisheries while not putting the commercial fishing industry out of business, build coalition of more than 10,000 sport fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts; educated members on bottom trawling; coordinated 7,000 letters to influence targeted legislators, build alliances with key environmental and conservation groups, including Oceana, the Sierra Club, National Resource Defense Council, and the Defenders of Wildlife.
Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB1459 into law on September 24, 2004, which limits marine destruction by regulating trawl permits, areas and gear. The bill received overwhelming bi-partisan state legislative support. The PN campaign helped to bring about a major shift in state public policy.
Positive earned media coverage included: stories in the Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Santa Barbara News-Press, Ventura County Star, Long Beach Press Telegram, San Diego Union Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register, and the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, as well as Western Outdoor News and other trade publications , positive editorial endorsements from the Santa Barbara News-Press, Orange County Register, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and Western Outdoor News and Broadcast coverage in the Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara media markets