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Massive Weekend Fire Devastates San Francisco’s Fishing Industry

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SF’s Dungeness crab season is now in jeopardy

An early-morning fire caused an estimated $9 million in losses for SF fishermen
Dan Whaley/Twitter

A four-alarm fire that ripped through a San Francisco warehouse has left the city’s crabbing and fishing industry in shambles, as scores of local fishermen lost millions in gear and equipment.

According to the San Francisco Fire Department, the Fisherman’s Wharf-area blaze was reported just before dawn Saturday, at a warehouse at Pier 45. 150 firefighters and 50 trucks were sent to Shed C on the pier, where they say they fought 100-foot-tall flames and prevented any loss of life. But they were unable to save the equipment stored in the building, most of which belonged to 30 crabbers and fishermen, KQED reports. It’s a loss that’s sent the local fishing community spinning, as many say they’ve already been struggling due to the coronavirus crisis.

Fisherman Bob Maharry tells ABC 7 that he’s been in the business for the last 46 years, but he’s not sure how he’ll continue. “I lost every piece of equipment I own in the fire,” he says. Speaking with the SF Chronicle, Larry “Diver Duck” Collins, the head of the San Francisco Community Fishing Association, says that Maharry isn’t the only fisherman hurt by the blaze. “Pier 45 is the heart and soul of commercial fishing out of the Bay Area,” Collins says. “To take a hit like this, it’s a bad one. Most people don’t think about where their salmon, crab or black cod come from, but that’s where: It’s Pier 45.”

The Chron reports that the gear that was lost was “used to deliver approximately two-thirds of San Francisco’s fresh seafood,” and KQED reports that each operation lost about $300,000 of equipment, for a total loss of about $9 million. It gets worse: According to ABC 7, most crab fishermen aren’t insured against fire, which means that their losses might be permanent — and without their gear, recovery seems impossible.

Even those with insurance are in trouble, as crab pots (which run as much as $300 each) are often handmade and tough to obtain. The next Dungeness crab season is expected to kick off mid-November, and it’s unclear if the fishing operations that lost their pots in the fire can build back up by then. John Barnett, president of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association, tells KQED that “even if — by some miracle — deep-pocketed donors replaced all of the equipment lost, rigging and restoring it may take so long that the crabbers will almost certainly miss the coming season,” which could prompt many to just leave the business entirely.

“There’s a fair amount of fishermen that either won’t be able to make it past this, [or] be able to get economically sound again in their own finances,” Barnett says. “I think there’s a few fishermen that might just take this as their time to retire.”

According to a GoFundMe from the Crab Boat Owners Association, the fire took out “crab traps and salmon tanks and hydraulic blocks and herring nets and buoys and black cod traps and shrimp traps and replacement transmissions and spare parts and tools and extra propellers and forklifts” — and all of that equipment is necessary “to continue working and bringing fresh seafood to San Francisco.” According to Randy Quezada, a spokesperson with the Port of San Francisco, that agency understands that “this is a tragic loss” and says that “we’re going to put our heads together for solutions.” As of Tuesday morning, however, a plan to support the city’s fishing community has yet to be revealed.