University of San Diego

San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law

Library of Congress Authority File


In 2018, The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (“the Federation”) sued several oil companies over these domoic-acid-related closures during the Dungeness crab fishing season. The Federation alleges the underlying reason for the closures is climate change, which brought warmer seas (and, in turn, algae blooms that release domoic acid) because of greenhouse gas emissions. The Federation is pursuing legal action in response to the economic harms its members have faced from the fishing season closures. In a 2018 article from NPR, Mr. Oppenheim (quoted above) stated that the 2015 to 2016 crab fishing closure caused some boats to leave the fishing industry altogether. It is further alleged that the oil companies knew sea temperature would rise and made efforts to hide this information to avoid regulation.

Additionally, in 2017, one year prior to the Federation’s action, lawsuits alleging very similar causes of action in connection to economic harms from sea level rise were filed by the County of San Mateo and the City of Oakland, joined by the City and County of San Francisco. As a result, the Federation’s lawsuit is currently stayed, pending the resolution of those two cases.

The Federation’s case will hinge on many of the factors previously considered by courts in similar actions where oil companies were sued over their role in climate change. Whether the case can be heard and whether it should be heard in state or federal court are often the two largest obstacles for litigants to overcome when suing oil companies over climate change. This Comment will center around the Federation’s claims, and their strength and weaknesses considering past cases against the oil companies. Specifically, this Comment analyzes: (1) threshold issues that typically arise in common law actions related to climate change; (2) the differences between the California Cities’ (“the Cities”) cases and the Federation’s case; and (3) the likely outcome of the Federation’s case.