San Francisco crabbers sue over Fishermen’s Wharf fire

Published on
December 18, 2020

About 25 commercial fishermen in San Francisco, California, U.S.A. filed a lawsuit against the city Wednesday, 16 December, contending negligence by the Port of San Francisco led to a 23 May, 2020, fire that gutted a Pier 45 warehouse, destroying their gear.

Port officials, who leased space to the fishermen, failed to maintain fire protections and an aging electrical system inside the 85,000-square-foot facility, the lawsuit alleged. Port officials were also aware of homeless people entering and sometimes using fires for cooking, the suit claims.

Crabbers say they had to buy new gear for this month’s Dungeness season opener, but some have been unable to re-equip in time.

The concrete pier holds maritime businesses along with tourist attractions, including the Jeremiah O’Brien, a restored World War II Liberty ship, that was saved by San Francisco firefighters and their fire boat.

John Mellor, a plaintiff and longtime crabber and fisher, told the Associated Press the crabbers lost “hundreds of thousands of dollars" worth of gear in the fire.

“Most fishermen don’t make a lot of extra money each year, so we don’t have a pot of savings that can be dipped into when something like this happens. It’s a desperate situation,” he said. “The port needs to make this right.”

John Cote, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, called the fire a heartbreaking tragedy, but denied responsibility on behalf of the city.

“We also have a duty to San Francisco taxpayers, and the city was not responsible for that fire," he said in a statement.

Around 15 fish buyers and processors are located on the wharf, according to the San Francisco Community Fishing Association. Those businesses survived without damage to offices, freezers, and production facilities. The cause of the fire was deemed accidental, but no definitive cause has been identified.

Reporting by Kirk Moore

Photo courtesy of San Francisco Fire Department

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