Thanks to the Trump administration scaling back on foreign worker visas this year, the Maryland seafood industry is in crisis with nearly half the Eastern Shore’s crab houses lacking workers to pick crab meat, according to the Baltimore Sun.
They failed to get visas for their mostly Mexican work force, including many women who have been coming north to Maryland for crab season for as long as two decades. The Trump administration for the first time awarded them this year in a lottery, instead of on a first-come, first-served basis.
Crab house owners have said this is the worst worker shortage they have faced, and if the Trump administration does not dish out more H-2B visas, they won’t make it.
“This is going to cause the price of crab meat to go out of sight,” said Harry Phillips, owner of Russell Hall Seafood on Hooper’s Island. “There’s not going to be hardly any Maryland crab meat.
“It looks like it’s a matter of time before they’re going to shut all of us down.”
Maryland has 20 licensed crab processors, and they usually bring in about 500 seasonal foreign workers to do the picking – a job that Americans simply don’t want to do anymore.
This year, the number of visas they were granted fell about 200 short of what they needed.
Federal labor officials said there was “unprecedented” demand for H-2B visas in January. They received applications for 81,000 foreign workers when only 33,000 visas were available for work from April through September. The visas have become increasingly desirable over the past five years as overall U.S. unemployment falls.
The Maryland businesses are calling up Trump to fix the situation by granting the visas they need to stay open.
“This is not an immigration issue,” said Morgan Tolley, general manager of A.E. Phillips & Son on Hooper’s Island. “They come here, abide by rules, they pay their state and federal taxes, their social security taxes, and they send the majority of their money home to support their family. They are a very important part of our local economies.”
Tolley supports the president and believes he will be good for business in general, but when it comes to the H-2B visa program he thinks Trump has gotten it wrong.
“I voted for Donald Trump and I’d vote for President Trump again,” he said. “But I think in small rural towns in America, we’re getting the short end of the stick on labor.”