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A Message from Randy Olson about this Video

Perhaps, at last, I've managed to unify fishermen and environmentalists in a joint cause - to attack me. First, the Tiny Fish PSA angered the fishermen, now this video is angering some environmentalists. Let me explain a few things.

"No one is against the industry and recreation of fishing."

These words were in our slide show, "Pristine?" which launched this project. Furthermore, the LA Times OpEd I wrote about shifting baselines in November, 2002, made no mention of being against fishing. If anyone somehow got the idea that we are anti-fishermen, they simply failed to listen to the slide show or read our mission statement.

In fact, if you look at our list of partner groups you can spot Seafood Choices Alliance (and though in the future "seafood" might mean something different, today being pro-seafood usually means you're pro-fishing). And at least one of our partner groups, Environmental Defense , produces artwork of healthy, vibrant oceans that include fishermen.

What we are against is over-fishing. And at least in theory, so is every fisherman as well since nobody wants to destroy their own industry. The disagreement comes in defining over-fishing and figuring out how to avoid it. This is where it gets difficult.

There are countless disputes. But almost anyone would agree that "communication" is the most essential element in dispute resolution. In fact .

The Center for Dispute Resolution , in their mission statement, says it, "encourages communication between the parties, and focuses on the parties' real interests, rather than on their positions or demands, enabling them to address the real concerns underlying the conflict."

From the beginning, our title has been The Shifting Baselines PROJECT, not "campaign." We are not campaigning for anything. Instead, we are exploring. Trying to figure out the depth and significance of this new term, "shifting baselines," experimenting with new techniques for communication (the internet, comic PSAs, lenticular images), and trying to motivate people to take an interest in the changes that tend to go unnoticed.


From the outset we have had two main goals:

1) To Halt Ocean Decline

2) To Improve Communication of Ocean Conservation

What we did with the Tiny Fish PSA was completely in line with these two goals. It had a message about ocean decline (that fish are getting smaller, which is a hard, cold fact for many species), but more importantly, it was a tool for improving communication.


Here's how it worked as a tool:

1) Putting the Ocean on Television - "The oceans are in crisis" (according to the Pew and USCOP reports). Television is the most powerful medium in our society. Most major crises are frequently covered on television. And yet, there are virtually no television reports on "the ocean crisis." Furthermore, "the ocean crisis" has failed to make the cover of Time or Newsweek over the past three years. You might answer, "Terrorism has pre-empted all the news," but then why was there a tiger on the cover of Time magazine last August for a story on endangered tigers? The mass communication of the "ocean crisis" has been less than effective. The Tiny Fish PSA isn't much, but it at least helps send out a television signal that all is not perfect in the oceans.

2) Opening the Door with Fishermen - It wasn't a pretty way to do it, but there's no denying it worked. I am in contact with at least 20 fishermen since the PSA blew up over Christmas. Some of them are not entirely fond of what I did, but I doubt they would be interested in communicating as much if I had just contacted them out of the blue. It has effectively punched some buttons (though one of my advisors refers to it as "a sucker punch to the fishermen"). At least we are keenly aware of the unfairness of the commercial, and have quickly done our best to follow up with this new video.

3) The Complete Ignorance of MPAs - "Like 'em or not, they're headed your way." This is what a NMFS scientist told me last year, and it was the final incentive for me to do the Tiny Fish PSA. "It's like a secret dirty little war," is what a prominent ocean conservationist said to me last month about MPAs. And it's true. Fishermen and environmentalists are at each other's throats over MPAs, and yet the Tiny Fish PSA is the definitive demonstration of the public's total lack of knowledge of (or perhaps interest in) the issue. As the video says, we spoke with 43 television stations about it, none of them knew of any associated controversy. The communication of MPAs as a major issue that the public should know about has been just about as ineffective as the efforts to communicate "the ocean crisis."

It may not prove to be the perfect technique, but if that's the case, hopefully it will lead to others doing a better job of improving communication of ocean conservation issues.


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