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Congressman Andy Harris

Representing the First District of Maryland

Local businesses feeling the pinch of lack of crab pickers

May 16, 2018
In The News

There is crab meat crisis on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, even though crabs are in good supply this season.

It's not a lack of crabs, but of crab pickers.

There are two schools of thought on how the lack of pickers could impact Marylanders. The price of live crabs could go down, while the cost of crab meat could skyrocket.The problem is rooted in new immigration policies by the Trump administration.

Ironically, in a season where crabs are plentiful, those in the crab processing business say help can't come soon enough.

Picking rooms that are normally full of crab pickers -- workers who gather the crab meat that is enjoyed in crab cakes and other delicacies -- are now empty. The Rusell Hall Seafood Processing Company hasn't been able to get visas for workers who mostly come from Mexico.

Congress limited the number of visas issued and the Trump administration awarded guest visas on a lottery system rather than a first come basis.

"You know what a lottery is -- it's a gamble. How can a business gamble that it's going to get workers each year in the spring?" Harry Phillips asked.

Russell Hall Seafood is on the brink of going out of business. The island has relied on a federal seasonal work program known as H-2B visas for the past 25 years. The new lottery system has left the island's processors 40 percent short of the visas they need to make a living.

"I don't have any Americans who want to do this job," said Brian Hall, owner of G.W. Hall & Sons Seafood.

The shortage of pickers is having a ripple effect. The town's only grocer is feeling pinched.

"Our business has very much suffered because of the lack of the people here. The trucks aren't running, boats aren't working, our hours are less," said Katie Doll, owner of Hoopers Island General Store.

Fishermen catching bait for crabs are also impacted.

"They are not illegals. They don't climb over walls. They come here, they work, like, six, seven months, they go back home to Mexico," said Capt. Larry Powley.

Rep. Andy Harris is working with the Trump administration to resolve the issue.

The Trump administration is expected to add 15,000 more guest visas, but the since crab season is already underway, and because of the long trek from Mexico to Hoopers Island, many are worried it will be too little, too late.