About 25 San Francisco commercial fishermen filed a lawsuit against the city Wednesday, contending negligence by the Port of San Francisco led to a May 23 fire that gutted a Pier 45 warehouse destroying their gear.

Port officials, who leased space to the fishermen, failed to maintain fire protections and an aging electrical system inside the 85,000-square-foot facility, the lawsuit alleged. Port officials were also aware of homeless people entering and sometimes using fires for cooking, the suit claims.

Crabbers say they had to buy new gear for this month’s Dungeness season opener but some have been unable to re-equip in time.

The concrete pier holds maritime businesses along with tourist attractions, including the Jeremiah O’Brien, a restored World War II Liberty ship, that was saved by San Francisco firefighters and their fire boat.

John Mellor, a plaintiff and longtime crabber and fisher, told the Associated Press that everyone lost “hundreds of thousands of dollars" worth of gear in the fire.

“Most fishermen don’t make a lot of extra money each year, so we don’t have a pot of savings that can be dipped into when something like this happens. It’s a desperate situation. The Port needs to make this right.”

John Cote, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, called the fire a heartbreaking tragedy, “but we also have a duty to San Francisco taxpayers, and the city was not responsible for that fire," he said in a statement to news media.

Around 15 fish buyers and processors are located on the wharf, according to the San Francisco Community Fishing Association. Those businesses survived without damage to offices, freezers and production facilities. The cause of the fire was deemed accidental but no definitive cause has been identified.

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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