On November 14, fishermen in California and Oregon filed suit against 30 companies, mainly oil producers, contending that the fossil fuel industry must be held accountable for recent warming-related damages to the West Coast’s prized Dungeness crab fishery.
The fishermen’s lawsuit appears to be the first time food producers have sued the fossil fuel industry for allegedly harming the environment.
Dungeness, Washington. Photo Liz Johnson.
Recorded temperatures on July 23, 2018: the second heatwave within a 2 week period. Image windy.com.
Several marine heatwaves have affected the northeast Pacific Ocean since 2014. Higher temperatures caused blooms of toxic algae that produce domoic acid, a neurotoxin, which can make Dungeness crab and other shellfish unsafe to eat. The unsafe levels of domoic acid prompted state officials in California and Oregon to post closures of crab fishing, resulting in significant losses to the $445 million industry.
“These impacts…have nothing to do with abundance of the stock or overfishing. They’re driven by ocean warming of these blooms of toxin-producing algae,” says Noah Oppenheim, Executive Director, Pacific Coats Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.
"...the world's oil barons should foot the bill."
According to Oppenheim, Dungeness crab fishermen in California have been allocated about $15 million of a $200 million federal disaster relief package to help fishermen. But Oppenheim says that while crab fishermen “appreciate the help” from taxpayers, “The financial harm should be covered by those perpetrating it…..the world’s oil barons should foot the bill.”
Sources within the oil industry would not discuss the lawsuit.
Earlier this month, a U.S. Federal Report outlined likely economic impacts resulting from climate change and sea level rise.
The report predicts that the East Coast will see “declines of species that support some of the most valuable and iconic fisheries in the Northeast, including Atlantic cod, Atlantic sea scallops, and the American lobster.”
Trawler passes Portland Head Light. Photo by Liz Johnson.
Oppenheim says the impacts now hitting the West Coast crab fishery will probably only magnify as the planet continues warming: "It's highly likely this is going to become a recurring problem, part of a new ocean regime — the new normal."