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Why is a Pacific Coast Fisheries Organization suing 30 fossil fuel companies?
A fight is unfolding in the Pacific over toxic algae, climate change and crabs. It has the commercial crab industry taking on Big Oil.
At the center of this fight is a neurotoxin called domoic acid, which causes something called amnesic shellfish poisoning. Symptoms can range from stomach problems, confusion, short-term memory loss, seizures, and even death. For three of the past four years, elevated levels of the toxin have forced California's commercial crab fishery to remain closed for weeks to months after the usual opening day until levels drop.
Domoic acid is produced by algae that flourish regularly along the Pacific coast. These blooms are not always dangerous. There is a combination of nutrients, light and, perhaps most importantly, warm water that can create a toxic soup. The toxin travels up the food chain from shellfish that leak through to creatures such as crabs, marine mammals, and rarely humans. To keep the food supply safe, state officials shut down fishing when levels get too high.
These closures have been devastating to the Dungeness crab industry, as reported by many publications, including San Francisco magazine and National Geographic. The worst shutdown began in 2015 and lasted for months, costing the industry more than $ 48.3 million in one estimate and more than $ 117 million in another. The 2016 and 2018 seasons also experienced delays from domoic acid.
An organization called the Federation of Pacific Coast Fishermen's Associations is preparing for a future where climate change ensures that there is that key ingredient to toxic blooms: hot water. These fishermen have connected some worrying dots, from toxic blooms and warming oceans to climate change and fossil fuels. So the group has taken the extraordinary step of suing 30 of the major fossil fuel companies: It wants Big Oil to pay for the damage to members' livelihoods, and its industry to survive even in a changing climate.