Can Commercial Fishermen Sue for Water Pollution ?

In Leo v. General Electric Co., 145 A.D.2d 291, 538 N.Y.S. 2d 844 (N.Y. App. Div. 1989), commercial fishermen brought an action against the defendant, General Electric Company, for discharging approximately 500,000 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from two of its manufacturing plants into the Hudson River. See id. at 845-46. The marine life in the Hudson River, including the striped bass, absorbed the PCBs that collected on the river floor. See id. As a result, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation imposed a ban on the sale of striped bass fished from the affected waters, and banned the fishing of striped bass anywhere in the State for either commercial or recreational purposes. See id. at 293. The commercial fishermen, who earned their livelihood from fishing the affected waters, claimed that the sale of striped bass accounted for a substantial part of their income and that as commercial fishermen they had a special interest in use of public waters. That special interest, they claimed, was invaded by the defendant's pollution, and they alleged that the defendant's public nuisance had and would continue to have a devastating effect upon their ability to earn a living. Accordingly, the fishermen sought damages and injunctive relief. See id. The court agreed with the fishermen and held that the commercial fishermen did have standing to complain of the pollution of the waters from which they derived their living. See id. at 847.