BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Many Maryland crab processors are still struggling from a Trump administration policy that has left them without immigrant workers to pick crab meat.
“We don’t have nobody to pick the crabs for us this summer,” waterman Sean Riley said.
The state’s spending board just approved $375,000 in funding for a seafood marketing program that the governor’s office said “will help offset losses” caused by the lack of workers.
Under Trump, the federal government moved to a lottery system to award a limited number of H-2B visas to migrant workers, instead of the traditional first-come-first-served policy.
Gov. Larry Hogan released the following statement:
“We remain hopeful that this issue will be resolved at the federal level, but in the meantime, we are doing all we can at the state level to support this iconic industry and the men and women who depend on it for their livelihood.”
Some business owners are near their breaking point.
“We’re left empty-handed for the season, it looks like. I don’t know what we’ll do,” said Harry Phillips of Russell Hall Seafood.
Rushern Baker, a Democrat fighting to challenge Hogan in the governor’s race, criticized him. In a tweet, he cited a CBS News story about the visa issue, writing “Larry Hogan continues to remain silent as the Trump Administration’s policies hurt Maryland’s businesses and families.”
Some Eastern Shore crab houses have been forced to close and fear they may not be in business for much longer. Most have lost out on two visa lotteries this year.
“You can’t run a business getting your workers picked by a lottery,” Phillips said. The crab businesses are competing with other industries for the highly coveted temporary migrant workers.
They say they cannot find locals willing to take the jobs because they’re seasonal. They also say paying higher wages would make their crab meat far more expensive than imported crab.
The Department of Agriculture will put together the new marketing campaign, which the Hogan Administration says “will aim to encourage more sales and enhance marketing opportunities.”
Maryland already has the True Blue program, which promotes businesses that sell local crab meat. Find more information here.
There is also the possibility that the federal government will make more H-2B visas available in another lottery next month.