BALTIMORE (WJZ) — There are nine picking houses in Dorchester County, which produce about 95 percent of Maryland’s crab meat. But many of them said they’ll be forced to scale back or close altogether without the additional seasonal workers.

Hooper’s Island sits along the Chesapeake Bay and is the epicenter for Maryland’s crab industry.

“I am the fifth generation for Rippons Brother’s Seafood.” said Colleen Ruark.

These crab companies are family-owned and operated. But, these local watermen, retailers and distributors now face a major dilemma.

“It’s life or death for us.” said Bryan Hall, with GW Hall.

Every year, the seafood industry relies on foreign nationals who come to the U.S. on a temporary work visa. The H-2B visa program started in the 1980s and capped the number of visas at 66,000 annually.

But with a boost in the economy and higher demand, the industry said that’s not enough anymore.

“Right now, there are six of us in danger of not opening up at all this year.” said John Walker, with Phillips AE Sons.

John Walker said after 106 in business, he doesn’t know whether they’ll even be able to open this year. That’s why a group of industry representatives and a bipartisan group of state and federal lawmakers are asking the federal government to issue an additional 64,000 visas.

“If we do not get these pickers, we’re closed.” Walker said.

Hooper’s Island employs about 400 temporary workers each season. A recent study by the Department of Agriculture finds that without the additional help, Maryland’s economy could lose as much as $150 million.

“If you take 2.54 American jobs created by each one of these folks that come here, we’re looking at over 1,000 jobs, American jobs, that are dependent on these visas.” said Jack Brooks, with the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Foundation.

Crab harvest starts April 1. So many of the commercial watermen are asking for the visas to be released immediately.

Rachel Menitoff

Comments (18)
  1. carla says:

    the sad thing is that the illegals could have applied for these work visas,,,there are hundreds of thousands not filled, so not sure how MD got shorted.

  2. Don L says:

    Send the little suckers up here and I’ll clean and eat them anytime. better than lobster.

  3. wemoore says:

    Easy fix. Go recruit the Baltimore Street Squeegee operators (the homeless guys who illegally half wash your car windows at the street lights all over town). That gets riff-raff off the street and fewer go to jail, saves drivers from having to re-clean their smeared windows in the parking lot, and gives the crabbers sizable crews of petty criminals so loved by Democrats. If any crabs make it to market, it may be good for the fishermen too.

  4. X-Files says:

    Pay more $’s for “pickers” to assure a sufficient workforce. All businesses are impacted by the low unemployment. Charge more for your product because you have to pay more. Quit subsidizing your business with foreign workers provided by the government, which keeps down the wages of your current “pickers”. Stand on your own. Crab is not a life or death requirement.
    It’s called economics and we should all understand them.

  5. brutal truth says:

    Those crabbers got fat and lazy off slave illegal labor just like in the plantation days. They deserve to fail if they’re not willing to hire Americans and pay a real wage.

  6. BillW334 says:

    What’s the unemployment rate in Baltimore? How many are there on food stamps and welfare? Oh, that’s right…. we can’t make benefits contingent on actually “working” now can we…. that would be, what, slavery? Riiiight. So, is it workers the crabbers want, or is it just cheap workers? I guess we know the answer to that.

  7. Americans First says:

    The unemployment rate in Baltimore is 7% and they say they “need” foreign workers? I think not. How about employ your local citizens first! No, you just want cheap labor instead of doing the right thing.

    1. BillW334 says:

      Everything about Baltimore disgusts me. The generational welfare, the crime, the inability for citizens to carry firearms for self-protection, the hypocrisy of the leftists, the greed (and hypocrisy} of local industry, but most of all, the corrupt, bottom-feeding self-interest of the Democrat politicians and the mindless minions who continue to vote for them. If Baltimore suddenly disappeared and simply left a giant hole in the ground the country would be better off.

  8. Jack says:

    Traditionally companies would go to High Schools and Universities and recruit summer jobs applicants from there. Govt could ‘incentivize’ hire American with ‘paid tuition credits’ instead of bringing foreign nationals here where some never leave and others have anchor babies.

  9. Sum Ting says:

    These guys are infuriating depending on slave labor for their profit. I’ll bet when one gets injured they drop them off at the emergency room at public hospital and we get to pay for it. How many come over pregnant and have baby in US, score, we will pay for that too. You slavers should pay more for American workers. Any importing of people for labor or education drives down the quality of living of all Americans, the only difference is the ones that do it gain more profit and up their class on the backs of the middle class. Hey, NY, DC, Va, Md, do you hire foreign nannies, housekeepers and lawn care as employees and payroll tax, Social Security and Medicare and pay for part of their health insurance and all appropriate taxes, thats what I thought, I guess we will pay for all of that and to educate their kids, too. How about stop hurting Americans and have a proper labor system. Trump do not help these guys, take all of their slave labor away. Stop hurting America.

  10. Randall f Tepler says:

    I feel for these businesses. They have some hard choices. I think more H2b visas would be great IF we (the govt.) have a system in place to make sure they stay only as long as the visa allows. Maybe we could assign the visa user to a business and the business assures the user goes back at the end of the visa. Fines for both no more visas for the user if they overstay. Heck, maybe it would start a new industry of bounty hunters for those who over stay like when people don’t show for court. Maybe the business owner could post a bond.

  11. Mo Ting says:

    It’s comforting to see that these workers from ‘who knows where’ and have ‘questionable medical history’ are packaging ready to eat crab without any protection of coughing Covid-19 or anything else from going right into our food. Funny when they say we have a virus case with ‘no known travel to affected areas’, maybe one of these workers just arrived from a country that they just licked a diseased religious shrine. Looks like an Americans with health insurance and a decent wage might be better for this instead of workers from cesspool countries handling our food just before we eat it. I’ll never eat that crab again. Stop slaving and do not infect us with your slaves.

  12. Tom says:

    Can they “guarantee” these workers will leave at the end of the season?
    Can they “guarantee” any females will not be allowed to deliver babies while here?

  13. Paul Janney says:

    I get so tired of htis argument. Americans will do any job, if you pay a fair price. You just want to create a class of people that have to work for less. Its disgusting

  14. carla says:

    well the Dems allowed the open borders so about 20 million are here illegally. What jobs are they doing? They certainly won’t apply for a visa job, so who’s fault is this?

  15. Yorgden Oslovich says:

    Hire Americans. Charge more. Simple.

  16. lee says:

    Build an offshore floating processing center and hire all the third world slaves you can. room, board and five dollars a day with the promise that after the season they can swim to shore.

  17. Charliep says:

    What did the crab pickers do before 1980? I remember visiting these places back then and they were doing just fine. Their problem is they must now compete with crab farming in the Philippines and Thailand. But Maryland Crab Meat has always sold at a premium over Philippine crab meat. Get Annapolis to enact “Champagne” legislation requiring anybody who sells “Maryland Crab Cakes” on their menu to use only crab meat picked from these facilities. They can hire American workers and raise their crab meat prices to cover the additional cost.

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