The Tuna Fleet


Many times a combination of public and governmental relations are required. The Environmental Defense fund and other groups were trying to use a section of the Marine Mammal Act to stop the American tuna industry from using seiners (huge nets) to catch tuna if porpoise were in the area. The strictest interpretation would have meant financial disaster for the fleet and forced most of the boats to transfer to foreign registry. Environmentalists had painted a picture of tuna fishermen as “wanton porpoise killers” and developed strong media backing in the influential eastern press. The industry needed a rapid change in public opinion and media coverage in advance of congressional hearings.

After two weeks of intensive research, the Tom Gable PR team began building a campaign to communicate the sincerity of the tuna fishermen in trying to save porpoises, the money they had spent to create new equipment, the extraordinary risks they took by going into the water among sharks and fish to free trapped porpoise and the economic and nutritional benefits the industry contributed to America. The campaign was designed to reach the media, heads of key congressional committees, heads of companies in allied industries and opinion leaders throughout the nation. In addition to the short-term media relations program, the agency developed a long-term communications program to keep all targets informed regularly.

A press conference announcing the success of fishing with a new net kicked off the campaign just three weeks after the Gable project started. An 18-page “white paper” was distributed nationwide that day. Thereafter, the program used news conferences, interviews, video news releases, stories in major publications (The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Atlantic, Scientific American), direct mail and broadcast media, including network news. After six months, the major media outlets were nearly unanimous in their support for eased restrictions on the fleet. Legislation to that effect cleared a key House committee and had been introduced on the floor. The “porpoise killer” image of the American fisherman had been transformed to that of a sensitive individual, performing a difficult job in an environmentally sensitive way. The fleet, with few exceptions, stayed under American registry as netting restrictions were eased.

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