BALTIMORE (WJZ) — After a critical labor shortage last crab season, Eastern Shore picking houses are up and running this year.
For more than two decades, crab picking houses have relied on temporary workers from Mexico. Locals want year round, not seasonal, labor.
“Without these girls, we’re in a pickle,” an Eastern Shore picking house worker said.
Half of Maryland’s picking houses found themselves in a pickle last year as the Trump Administration went from first come first serve to a lottery system for temporary worker visas.
Harry Phillips, Russell Hall Seafood: “We applied for 50 temporary work visas this year and that’s what we’ve been doing for 25 years.”
Alex DeMetrick: And you didn’t get any?
Phillips: Zero, we got zero.
“For over 33,000 visas, they had over 90,000 requests,” Jack Brooks, of JM Clayton Co. Seafood, said. “So the odds were you were not going to get them. So this year they did not do a lottery season.”
The result of no lottery system is full workforces at all the Eastern Shore’s picking houses.
“It’s been just wonderful, a great reprieve from last year,” Brooks said.
This year, watermen aren’t being turned away with their catch like they were in 2018.
What has started a strong season means the houses are now buying all they can handle. The result of more crabs is lower prices for the finished product.
What’s happening this year, may not be happening next, however. That is because the labor department is talking about a return to a lottery system for work visas.
“Oh my gosh, here we go again,” Books said. “Hanging by a thread. It’s a tough way to live. A tough way to do business.”