Scorched fishing traps stand next to the collapsed warehouse at Pier 45 on Friday, July 24, 2020, two months after a May 23 four-alarm fire. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF Port to begin demolition of Pier 45 shed destroyed by fire as fishers chart recovery

City commission to approve loan program for crab trap replacement

San Francisco is expected to begin demolition next week on the remains of the large Pier 45 shed in Fisherman’s Wharf that was destroyed by a May fire along with the thousands of fishers’ crab traps stored inside.

Months later, the cause of the fire remains under investigation, a fire department spokesperson told the San Francisco Examiner this week. The weeks-long demolition work will also help investigators access the site, Port of San Francisco officials said.

The Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on legislation authorizing the Port’s expedited process to hire contractors to perform the emergency work.

Meanwhile, the Port Commission is preparing to finally approve a loan program using $1 million in Port funds to help fishers replace destroyed traps. The commission heard an information-only presentation on the proposed loan program during its July 14 meeting. It is expected to approve the program at its next meeting on Aug. 11.

Additionally, Supervisor Aaron Peskin has embarked on a separate effort to privately raise $500,000 to help fishers put a down-payment on the crab trap orders.

City officials hope with the financial assistance they can save fishers’ careers and salvage the crab season, which begins in November. The fishers’ traps were not insured, Port officials said.

The destroyed Shed C on Pier 45 housed approximately 8,000 crab traps and other fishing gear for about 30 local fishers who deliver about two-thirds of San Francisco’s fresh seafood annually, according to a Port Commission staff memo. The crab fishers produce nearly 2 million pounds of Dungeness crab every year.

Elaine Forbes, Port of San Francisco’s executive director, told the commission that the agency has contracted Silverado Construction for the debris removal and demolition of the shed.

The Port’s insurance policy “does cover the cost of rebuilding the damaged shed and the lost income,” she said.

“Staff has begun a process to develop a cost estimate for the total replacement of Pier 45,” Forbes said. “Reconstruction and final disposition of this claim may take us many years unfortunately.”

The Port intends to offer the fishers alternative storage space.

“We’re currently in the process of developing a plan to partition Pier 45 Shed A into new storage spaces for fishers who lost space in Shed C,” Forbes said.

Large amounts of fishing equipment stand piled up near fishing businesses at Pier 45 on Tuesday, May 26, 2020 following a four-alarm fire that struck early Saturday morning. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

She noted that “the cleaning and restoration of all tenants’ spaces in Sheds A, B and D are complete and onsite fish processing has been allowed to resume at Pier 45.”

Forbes said that the onsite investigation of the fire is ongoing.

“We do expect the fire department’s investigation into the cause and origin of the fire to resume once Silverado has removed some debris to support that investigation,” Forbes said. “Once that fire investigation is complete, we will continue to work with that contractor on all debris removal, but that will allow further access into the shed and potential salvage operations.”

Katie Petrucione, the Port’s deputy director of finance, told a Board of Supervisors committee this week,“The Port expects that the demolition process is going to begin next week and will be complete by the middle of September.”

She noted that the Port has also contracted with a “forensic accounting firm to support the development of its insurance claim and to ensure that it receives the most generous settlement possible.”

Under the Port’s loan program, fishers can apply for $100 per replacement trap for the first 200 they buy and then “all remaining funds will be allocated proportionally based on the outstanding debts of each applicant,” according to the staff memo.

The fenced-off ruins of a warehouse at Pier 45 on Friday, July 24, 2020, following a May 23 four-alarm fire. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

One example provided is that a fisher who purchases 150 traps can receive a loan of about $27,500 out of a total cost of $37,500. Pots cost more than $200 each to purchase.

The fisher would need to pay back the zero-interest loan within five years. If 75 percent of the loan is repaid within three years, the balance is forgiven. Two late payments results in a 5 percent penalty assessed on the monthly amount due.

There are only a few manufacturers of crab traps in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, according to the memo, and each trap, which is a welded metal frame covered in rubber, is made by hand.

“Delivery can take several weeks to complete,” the memo said. “To start production on traps, manufacturers require a down-payment between 25 to 50 percent of the total cost of the order.”

John Mellor told the commission he has fished out of Fisherman’s Wharf for more than 40 years. The fire destroyed his crab gear, which is “essential for making a living as a fulltime fisherman.”

“I really appreciate that the commission is going to make these loans and grants available because otherwise I couldn’t stay in business and I would basically lose my career and livelihood,” Mellor said. “It’s a very desperate situation for the San Francisco fishing community and I can’t emphasize enough that we really need your help.”

Some fishers have already started to buy traps, including used ones.

John Barnett, president of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association, said he lost 650 traps and has purchased 250 traps.

“That’s all I could afford and all I could rig up in time. I already started the process,” Barnett said.

An excavator sits amongst the ruins of a warehouse at Pier 45 on Friday, July 24, 2020, following a May 23 four-alarm fire. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Barnett said it will take some time for the fishers to replace the equipment they lost, which many have accumulated over decades.

“To replace that, it’s going to take time, it’s not something that can happen in one season, let alone within three or four months,” Barnett said. “I personally don’t see how half of them without some funding assistance like this are going to make it.”

Nick Krieger, a commercial fisherman, said, “I lost all my gear in Shed C, 350 crab pots and rock crab gear and black cod gear as well.”

He said he had some concerns that the financial assistance wouldn’t help him buy used equipment or other gear. He also held on to hopes he might be able to salvage some gear from the shed.

“I possibly have gear that is still in the shed. So it’ll be definitely disappointing to me if the only way I can receive any of the grant fund or the loan is to buy more crab pots when many of mine may be salvageable but I just need new line and new slopes for them,” Krieger said.

Krieger said he already has “borrowed $30,000 and bought used crab gear from a friend of mine which will take less work than getting new gear and also cost a little less.”

He added, “I feel like I am put in a situation where possibly the only way I can receive assistance from the Port is to possibly end up with far more crab gear than I actually need.”

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