SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- More than 25 crab fishers have sued the Port of San Francisco, accusing the agency that manages the city's waterfront of negligence over a four-alarm fire back in May that severely damaged Pier 45.
Pier 45 has long been regarded as the heart of the city's historic crab and fishing industry, housing the largest concentration of commercial fish processors and distributors on the West Coast.
The May 23 blaze completely destroyed Pier 45's Shed C, a more than 85,000-square-foot facility operated by the port in which the fishers stored a considerable amount of equipment used during the crab season.
The complaint alleges the port failed to take sufficient fire prevention measures such as failing to properly lock the shed, despite knowing that unhoused people regularly trespassed and camped and cooked fires inside. Additionally, the complaint alleges the port failed to maintain its aging electrical systems in the shed and failed to install sprinklers inside despite being ordered to do so by the fire marshal.
The complaint further alleges the port allowed flammable and explosive materials in the shed, including fuel, piles of wood pallets and garbage.
The fishers lost millions of dollars worth of equipment in the fire and are continuing to lose money. While some scrambled to secure new fishing gear ahead of the November start of the Dungeness crab season, others were forced to shut down operations completely, according to the complaint.
"San Francisco's crabbers have had a few rough years with seasons getting canceled or shortened because of ocean conditions; and like everyone, the pandemic has made everything harder," plaintiff and San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association President John Barnett said in a statement. "To add to this getting all of your gear destroyed in a fire caused by someone else's carelessness is a punch in the gut."
"For well over 100 years, San Francisco's fishing community has been literally synonymous with the city's waterfront. If we lose that community, the waterfront loses its soul," Stuart G. Gross, attorney for the fishers, said.
"When the port told crabbers to store their gear in the shed, it assumed the obligation to make reasonable efforts to ensure that it was safe for that purpose. The port had ample notice of the myriad fire risks in Shed C, and every opportunity to mitigate those risks. It did not do so, and San Francisco's fishing community has suffered the consequences. They deserve better," Gross said.
In response to the suit, San Francisco City Attorney's Office spokesman John Cote said "The fire was a tragedy, and our hearts go out to the crabbers, fishermen and others who suffered. But we also have a duty to San Francisco taxpayers, and the city was not responsible for that fire."
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