SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The West Coast crab fishing industry sued dozens of fossil fuel companies in California Superior Court Wednesday, arguing that pollution-caused climate change has shortened the annual crab season and hurt fishing families, communities and businesses.
The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations claims that the combustion of fuels sold by Chevron, ExxonMobil and other companies creates carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that have warmed the oceans, particularly off the coasts of California and Oregon.
Warmer oceans have more toxic algal blooms, the suit says. One such toxin called domoic acid finds its way into Dungeness crab meat.
Too much domoic acid forced regulators to shorten the crabbing season for each of the last three years. The 2018-19 Dungeness crab season opens on November 15, but some areas will be off-limits until domoic acid levels in sample crabs is lower.
People who ingest domoic acid may suffer amnesic shellfish poisoning, which can result in memory loss, brain damage and even death.
The Dungeness crab fishery is seasonal, usually lasting about 8 months. However, in the past three years, certain parts of the fishery have had severely delayed openings. For example, in the 2015-16 season, a section of the fishery north of San Francisco did not open until 6 months after the opening date.
Companies that extract, produce, refine, distribute and sell fossil fuel products are named as defendants in the complaint. The targets range from Chevron and ExxonMobil to Devon Energy and Apache.
The federation alleges that the oil and gas defendants are directly responsible for a large portion of the global carbon dioxide emissions over the past 50 years.
"[Their] direct extractions of fossil fuels...are responsible for more than two hundred gigatons of emissions representing over 15% of total emissions of that potent greenhouse gas during that period."
The companies knew that their products create greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, according to the lawsuit. But they failed to tell consumers about the risks as they tried to avoid regulation.
Instead of working to lessen consumers' reliance on fossil fuels and minimize the damage caused by greenhouse gases, "Defendants concealed the dangers, sought to undermine public support for greenhouse gas regulation, and engaged in massive campaigns to promote the ever-increasing use of their products at ever greater volumes."
Reacting to the lawsuit by email, Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said the crab fishing associations' claims are without merit.
"The lawsuit seeks to penalize the production of reliable, affordable energy, which has been lawful and encouraged by governments. Energy companies and their products are vital to the global economy," he said.
Representatives for the plaintiffs were unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco County Superior Court by attorneys at Sher Edling in San Francisco, cites nuisance as well as strict liability for a failure to warn and design defect. The federation seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a disgorgement of profits.