Crab season begins April 1. However, the crab processing plants in Dorchester County, Maryland might not be opening, thus contributing even more to the recession. There simply are not enough workers to staff the crab plants. Chesapeake Bay area watermen are pleading with Congressman Frank Kratovil to do something about the situation.
For the past 10 years or so, the workers have come from Mexico and Central America on special visa for seasonal work. Now government red tape is causing so much of a delay that the entire industry might be affected.
So why don’t local folks take these jobs? Kids are working elsewhere. Crab processing is dangerous work and it used to be generational work. Kids would go with parents and other family members and learn to process crab. Nowadays, you have to be at least 16 years old with parent permission to even go in the plants. Most of the American crab pickers are now senior citizens.
At first, there were enough temporary worker visas — not just for crab picking, but for landscaping, construction and other seasonal businesses. But as Americans became concerned about immigrants taking residents’ jobs, Congress began limiting the number of H2B visas and creating other obstacles for businesses that depend on temporary workers.
This year, the H2B program was limited at 66,000 temporary visas. None of those went to the people who had been working in Dorchester County’s crab processing plants.
According to WJZ.com, a Baltimore TV station, the crab industry out of the Bay is on the verge of collapse while Maryland congresspersons scramble to save the day.
Kratovil asked people to explain how the loss of H2B workers will affect their livelihoods. Jack Brooks is president of Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association. He said University of Maryland research found that every H2B temporary worker creates 2 1/2 jobs for Shore residents.
Bank of the Eastern Shore President Sonny Robbins, Gary Pinder of BB&T’s Cambridge branch and Bill Marshall of the Bank of the Eastern Shore each talked about loans and mortgages held by watermen. They also said the temporary workers are bank customers.
Without the H2B workers, Marshall said, and with the increased harvest restrictions by the state, “We’re on the verge of a collapse here.”
Seafood buyer P.T. Hambleton of Bozman said watermen throughout the region will have nowhere to sell their crabs if packing houses close in Dorchester. “These plants are very important to all of us.”
Joe Brooks of J.M. Clayton’s crab processing plant in Cambridge pointed out that H2B workers pay income tax, Social Security and Medicare insurance, even though they will not benefit from Social Security and Medicare programs.
Brooks also pointed out that about 90 percent of the crabs caught by watermen is picked as crab meat. That means that when crab season opens April 1, without H2B workers, most crab packing plants will have no need for most of what is caught.
Will Virginia’s crab industry suffer from the same issues? Virginia is for lovers though, and Maryland is for crabs. Who would have thought that immigration issues would affect so many different aspects of our economy?