Firefighters douse hotspots Tuesday on a still-smoldering four-alarm fire that began early Saturday morning at Pier 45 near Fisherman’s Wharf. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Fishermen, port struggling to recover from Pier 45 fire

Loss to fishing industry alone could be in the millions

Days after a four-alarm fire erupted on Pier 45 that destroyed the equipment of dozens of fishermen and crabbers and halted fish processing operations, firefighters remain on the scene to control flare ups of flame in three smoldering sections of Shed C.

The fishermen and crabbers stored their traps and lines in that shed, which was where the fire originated early Saturday and what it destroyed.

“We are hopeful that we will have all these hotspots completely out and mitigated within the week’s end,” Lt. Jonathan Baxter, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Fire Department, said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

That’s when fire investigators can go take a closer look at the scene to determine the cause. Eventually, the Port will have the opportunity to inspect the pier and determine how much damage the fire caused to the structure itself.

About 30 fishermen and crabbers who lost equipment in the fire held a meeting with Port officials Monday.

“We’ve met with the Port. They told us they are going to be helpful,” said Larry Collins, president of San Francisco’s Community Fishing Association.

He added, “I instructed the fishermen that they needed to make a list of everything they had in their shed spaces and the value of it. And that process is not completed yet.”

Collins has estimated the loss at around $3 million to $5 million.

Large amounts of fishing equipment stand piled at Pier 45 on Tuesday. Officials estimate $3 to $5 million worth of fishing equipment was destroyed in a fire on the pier early Saturday. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

“It is something that is a tragedy and we are working with our tenants to connect them to resources as best as possible,” said Randy Quezada, Port of San Francisco spokesperson.

While the Port has insurance for its properties, it doesn’t cover the items belonging to its tenants. Tenants are required to have some form of insurance to lease from the Port, but it remains unclear to city officials if the policies held by the fishermen and crabbers will help. They were looking to answer that question as of Tuesday.

“The Port is trying to go through each and every insurance policy to figure out what they could actually get back,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district includes Pier 45.

He said it may be that these policies would include a personal property provision that would reimburse them for the loss of crab pots, which cost about $250, but “that question has not been answered.”

Regardless of that answer, Peskin said, “I am committed, and The City is committed, to making sure that these crab fisher people get back on their feet.”

The fishermen and crabbers were connected to the Office of Economic and Workforce Development for possible assistance.

The Crab Boat Owners Association has also launched a gofundme effort to raise $1 million to “reequip fishing businesses with the gear necessary to continue working and bringing fresh seafood to San Francisco.”

“As a community, we have lost approximately two-thirds of the capacity to harvest the fresh seafood that is delivered to San Francisco and the essence of our livelihoods,” the campaign site read.

Pier 45 is home to many seafood processing companies and wholesalers, some of whom suffered damage and loss in the fire. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

In addition, Water2Table, one of the seafood processing companies based on the pier, has launched its own GoFundMe to support the fishermen.

Also at Shed C were the corporate offices of the Red and White Fleet, which provides cruises in San Francisco Bay. The company was already suffering from the shelter-in-place order that shuttered “non-essential” businesses and they had to lay off about 40 employees, about 85 percent of the workforce.

“The good news is our boats are OK,” said Tyler Foster, executive vice president of CFO of Red and White Fleet. “But a lot of the things that we need to maintain and keep those boats running was destroyed, along with computers and office equipment.”

Foster said that he hopes an insurance claim could recover some of their losses. “I was just on the phone with an insurance adjuster. I am learning as I go. We hope so,” Foster said.

But he added, “Even if we do get an insurance claim that helps recover some of that equipment, it is going to be no good to us if we don’t get to open soon.”

He said that he is working with other Fisherman’s Wharf businesses, trying to get more clarity from The City on when they can open since the summer season is the best time of the year for them.

“We are hoping that it will be in the coming weeks, not in the coming months,” Foster said. “A lot of us have a short window in the summer high season, and if that slips away the chances of businesses surviving to 2021 gets much, much dimmer.”

The SS Jeremiah O’Brien was saved from the fire at Pier 45 and will be moved to Pier 35 North. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Meanwhile, the Port is working on cleaning the fish processing bays in Sheds B and D before allowing them to reopen. No timeline was given for their reopening.

“As we clean each shed, we are giving an opportunity for tenants to come back to move product in and out,” said Quezada, the Port spokesperson. “As we complete cleaning operations in a shed, we will allow them to return to fish processing operations. We are moving as quickly as we can. But we want to do this in a safe orderly fashion.”

In total, about 65 tenants were impacted on the pier.

The SS Jeremiah O’Brien, a historic World War II liberty ship, docked at Pier 45, was saved from the fire and was to be relocated Tuesday to Pier 35 North. The National Liberty Ship Memorial, which operates the Jeremiah O’Brien as a floating museum, is also raising funds after losing items on the pier.

The nearby Musée Mechanique survived the fire undamaged. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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