Oil Spills Violate the Commercial Fishermen's Right to Fish

In Burgess v. the M/V Tamano, 370 F. Supp. 247 (D. Me. 1973), a tanker discharged approximately 100,000 gallons of oil into the waters of Casco Bay in Maine. The plaintiffs, commercial fishermen, sought to recover economic damages incurred as a result of the discharge. See 370 F. Supp. at 248. The defendant contended that the plaintiff's economic interests were not legally cognizable because none of the fishermen had any property interest in the coastal waters, marine life, or shores claimed to have been injured by the spill. See id. at 249. The federal court disagreed. Although the court recognized that the fishermen had no individual property rights with respect to the aquatic life harmed by the oil pollution, the court concluded that the fishermen could state a claim for the tortious invasion of a public right because they had a special interest different from the general public to take fish from the coastal waters. See id. at 250. The court found that the fishermen's injury resulted from defendants' alleged interference with their direct exercise of the public right to fish. The court reasoned that it would be inappropriate for a person engaged in commercial fishing, who is dependent thereon for his livelihood, to be denied any right to recover for his pecuniary loss on the basis that his injury is no different from that sustained by the general public. See id.