San Francisco’s fishing industry was left staggering Sunday, a day after a four-alarm fire destroyed a processing and storage warehouse in Fisherman’s Wharf and threatened the next Dungeness crab season.
The blaze with flames 100 feet high sent darkened smoke across the waterfront Saturday morning and wiped out Shed C on Pier 45. Some 150 firefighters and 50 trucks squashed the inferno before anyone was killed, but none of the fishing gear used to deliver approximately two-thirds of San Francisco’s fresh seafood was salvaged.
“Pier 45 is the heart and soul of commercial fishing out of the Bay Area,” said Larry “Diver Duck” Collins, who runs the San Francisco Community Fishing Association and is a former president of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association. “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.”
Fire officials said Sunday that the cause of the blaze is under investigation. “San Francisco Fire units will remain at the site of the Pier 45 Fire throughout the Memorial Day holiday weekend,” the department tweeted. “These units are tasked with making sure flare-ups and hot spots stay out.”
San Francisco Fire units will remain at the site of the Pier 45 Fire throughout the Memorial Day Holiday Weekend
These units are tasked with making sure flare-ups and hot spots stay out
We continue to work closely with @SFPort on multiple topics
Fire is under investigation pic.twitter.com/O39fm4mnpA
— SAN FRANCISCO FIRE DEPARTMENT MEDIA (@SFFDPIO) May 24, 2020
The blaze destroyed up to $5 million worth of fishing gear, according to Collins, who estimated that 7,000 crab traps, 2,000 shrimp traps and 500 black cod traps were lost. He said the numbers could even be far higher, since the port three months ago largely changed the function of Shed C.
Without the proper fire sprinklers to house parking, Shed C was switched to mostly a storage facility in February. The offices of bay tour company Red and White Fleet remained, but local fishers said crab pots were packed 18 high per storage space and stretched to the ceiling.
“I just can’t even believe it. I could have never imagined that this would happen,” said Nick Krieger, a local fisherman who was speaking from a boat covered in black ash from melted rubber. “There’s absolutely no way that I’ll be able to replace what I lost for multiple years.”
Krieger has been a fisherman for about 10 years, a business that started with 25 crab pots from a small boat named “Take Time” and developed into one that has about 350 crab pots and recently added black and rock cod gear.
Already struggling with restaurants closed or confined to takeout, delivery and curbside pickup amid the coronavirus pandemic, Krieger said his business is in danger.
“It’s not really Fisherman’s Wharf without the fisherman,” he said. “There’s such a long heritage of crab at Fisherman’s Wharf. It just would be devastating to the whole area if that didn’t exist anymore, or if it was at such a reduced capacity.”
The local fishers and associations are expected to meet at noon Monday to discuss the fire and its consequences. On top of Shed C, the surrounding area was completely closed Sunday and monitored by police amid long stretches of leaking fire hoses. The air still smelled of burnt rubber Sunday morning, although the fire was out.
Shed A houses the Musée Mécanique, a museum devoted to mechanical musical instruments and arcade artifacts, and a parking port. The west side’s sheds, B and D, are generally quarters for the fishing industry’s wholesale buyers and distributors. Shed C was the storage place for about 30 to 50 fishers.
“When fish are biting, it’s amazing the amount of product,” Collins said, “but there’s no way to replace all of that gear by Nov. 15.”
Most of the salmon gear was saved, because it’s currently on boats. The black cod gear is largely in place for next week.
The crab pots, costing about $250 to $300 each, plus five hours of work, were in the burned shed. With the mid-November season in jeopardy, the Crab Boat Owners Association created a GoFundMe page seeking $1 million.
“We’ve got to get this fixed,” Collins said. “The fleet that fishes out of here is basic to our food security.”