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SF Pledges a Million Dollars to Crab Fishermen Following Devastating Wharf Fire

Fishermen have five months to get new gear and get crab on holiday tables

Bay Area Crab Season Endangered By Oil Spill Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The city of San Francisco is dedicating a million dollars to support local fishermen, as part of a larger relief effort in the wake of the devastating fire last month at Fishermen’s Wharf. It’s a team effort between Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, and Port Director Elaine Forbes, who announced a financial assistance package that’s a combination of grants and loans. This is critical for San Francisco’s crab fishermen, in particular, who were already struggling with canceled and shortened seasons well before the coronavirus shut down restaurants across the city, and then their equipment went up in flames.

The four-alarm fire went down just before dawn on Saturday, May 23, ripping through the warehouse at Shed C on Pier 45, sending flames 100 feet up into the air. No one died, but thousands of pieces of equipment were destroyed. The extent of the damage, according to the city’s latest estimates, is that more than 30 crabbers lost 8,000 crab and shrimp pots and black cod traps, valued at upwards of $1.6 million dollars.

“The fire at Pier 45 felt like a final blow to San Francisco fishing community,” John Barnett, President of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association, said in the statement. “We are struggling to make ends meet in this pandemic and just got back to work when the fire broke out…. We just want to get back on the water and earn a living but right now, we need help to do so.”

The financial assistance package is a joint effort between Mayor Breed, Supervisor Peskin, and Port Director Forbes, and is set up as a combination of both grants and loans. On behalf of the city of San Francisco, the mayor is dedicating a million dollars in grants, and Peskin is fundraising for $500,000 more. Port staff are also working with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association to offer loans. They are promising up to $40,000 per fisherman, so that crabbers can purchase new pots and traps.

“Many crabbers were already struggling financially … ” Breed said. “The crabbing and fishing industry in our city is part of what makes San Francisco so special and we want to help them recover from the loss of their equipment. Our planned financial assistance will help them get back on their feet and ready for the fall crabbing season.”

Dungeness crab season typically starts mid November, although it’s been a moving target over the last five years, due to warming waters, toxin scares, and whales getting tangled in nets, all contributing to canceled and shortened seasons. But Dungeness also runs deep as a holiday tradition in the Bay Area. Local fishermen now have five months to get their money, get their gear, and get crab on tables in time for Thanksgiving. Crab pots take time to build and rig. It’s no small task.

Regardless, “I have to give the city and the port a shoutout,” says Larry “Diver Duck” Collins, head of the SF Community Fishing Association. The usually salty fisherman has been hauling crab and salmon into Fishermen’s Wharf for nearly forty years. “They really appreciate how important the fleet is to San Francisco. It’s what’s special about living in SF, that makes the holidays with crabs and summer with salmon. This is fantastic. They’re understanding the needs of our small fishing community, and also the larger community.”

He was also impressed by how many everyday eaters started chipping in to support local fishermen, well before the government took action. To date, nearly $100,000 has been raised through an independent fundraiser.

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