Mayor London Breed, Port Commission President Kimberly Brandon, and Supervisor Aaron Peskin today announced a planned financial relief package to assist San Francisco crabbers impacted by a massive fire last month and ensure a crab season occurs this year.
More than 30 crabbers lost 8,000 crab, shrimp, and black cod traps pots during a 4-alarm fire that ravaged Pier 45 on May 23, 2020. Shed C, which was engulfed in flames and completely destroyed, housed the vast majority of the crab community’s pots, essentially bringing the local industry to a halt. The San Francisco crabbing community produces almost two million pounds of Dungeness crab each year. Approximately 50% of all Bay Area crab flows through Fisherman’s Wharf. The fishing industry has been a mainstay of the San Francisco and Fisherman’s Wharf economy since the Gold Rush era.
“Many crabbers were already struggling financially due to COVID-19, and the loss of their equipment in the fire at Pier 45 has made an already challenging situation even more difficult,” said Mayor Breed. “The crabbing and fishing industry in our city is part of what makes San Francisco so special and we want to help them recover from the loss of their equipment. Our planned financial assistance will help them get back on their feet and ready for the fall crabbing season.”
“The Fisherman’s Wharf crabbing and fishing community have always been essential to San Francisco’s identity and economy,” said Supervisor Peskin. “Part of that identity is a City that knows how to take care if its own. We are asking San Franciscans who refuse to let this crisis erase all our beloved iconic institutions to dig deep and support our Pier 45 Crab Relief efforts.”
Supervisor Peskin will lead a $500,000 fundraising campaign to provide a down-payment assistance funds for crabbers. The down-payment assistance ensures crabbers can place orders immediately and obtain the pots in time for the next Dungeness Crab Season, expected to open this fall. Additionally, Port staff is working with Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association to develop a loan payment program with favorable terms to support purchase of the pots to keep fishing community employed. Many crabbers have accumulated these pots over the course of their career and replacing an entire fleet of pots at one-time is financially impractical especially in this economic environment of uncertainty and hardship.
Down-payment assistance grants will provide up to $40,000 for each fisher’s down payment on replacement crab traps for the upcoming Dungeness crab season. Crabbers who lost pots and traps in Shed C, are Port tenants and are active fishers will be eligible for financial support.
Production of crab traps or pots is limited to a handful of manufacturers located in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. Each trap is built by hand and consists of a welded metal frame covered in a thick layer of rubber and wrapped in wire mesh. Traps range in size and shape and take several weeks to complete and ordering for this custom equipment requires advance lead-time for the manufacturers to secure materials and prepare.
“The Port is looking forward to working with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and the Crab Boat Owners to help this historic community and keep people employed,” said Kim Brandon, President of the San Francisco Port Commission. “We know many essential workers are struggling to make ends meet and we recognize the hardship of losing equipment vital to earning a living. We need to ensure we have a crab season as our restaurants and retail along the Wharf reopen from the COVID-19 shelter in place.”
The Port and OEWD will present the relief program to the Port Commission on July 14, 2020. The program will be administered by OEWD, which will provide access to down-payment assistance funds and the 0% interest loans to the crabbers. To access the down-payment assistance and loans, crabbers will need to complete a simple application and document their losses. Grant payments will be available within two weeks of the program’s inauguration and the receipt of a complete application. Funds made available through this program will be paired with technical assistance and will not preclude recipients from receiving grants or loans from additional City sources.
“The fishing community is integral part of Port community,” said Port of San Francisco Executive Director Elaine Forbes. “We want to assist this vital maritime industry in its recovery, and to ensure that the process of getting ready for November’s crabbing season is as painless as possible given these very challenging and uncertain times. We stand with our fishing community in recognition of the vital role this essential workforce plays in the Fisherman’s Wharf experience and in our economy.”
“OEWD is proud to support small businesses and workers impacted by disasters like the devastating fire at Pier 45,” said Joaquín Torres, Director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “As a City, we’re going to help reequip these small businesses with the gear they need now so that they don’t miss the crab season this fall.”
The Port of San Francisco is also working to identify new storage space for the crabbers and is considering a rent relief package for tenants. The Port has also written to its insurance company to see if any of this loss is eligible for insurance recovery.
“The fire at Pier 45 felt like a final blow to San Francisco fishing community,” said John Barnett, President of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association. “We are struggling to make ends meet in this pandemic and just got back to work when the fire broke out. We are surprised and grateful that City leadership and the Port of San Francisco see what we are going through and are offering to support us through this time. We just want to get back on the water and earn a living but right now, we need help to do so.”
Fisherman’s Wharf is the center of Northern California’s commercial and sport fishing fleets. Pier 45 houses the West Coast’s largest concentration of commercial fish processors and distributors. These fish processing facilities, housed in adjacent sheds to the one that burned, are undergoing cleaning and safety inspections.