No Visas, No Workers, No Business for Maryland's Crab Industry - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

No Visas, No Workers, No Business for Maryland's Crab Industry

Posted: Apr 03, 2018 6:22 PM Updated:

HOOPER'S ISLAND, Md. - Silver tables, usually used by workers to pick crabs, inside Russel Hall Seafood on Hooper's Island were laying empty on Wednesday.

Russell Hall Seafood owner Harry Phillips says his business asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for 50 seasonal workers from Mexico on what's called H2-B worker visas to pick crabs.

"What are we going to do? I mean if we don't have workers, we'll shut down," Phillips said.

Out of 81,000 applications nationwide, a record number, the government turned to a lottery system, reaching the 66,000 visa cap.

Russel Hall Seafood wasn't picked in the lottery as well as places like Old Salty's, A E Phillips and Lindy's Seafood.

Other businesses tied to Maryland's crab market, including seafood wholesalers like Ed Goodwin, say they're also in a pinch.

"It's a big part of our business...probably 25 percent of our business is crab meat," Goodwin said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has looked into releasing more visas, saying in a statement: "We are currently looking at last year's implementation of the H-2B plus-up to determine how best to proceed this fiscal year."

But time is running out. Phillips says they've already lost an eighth of their business without the workers being here.

With the lack of workers, businesses outside of the crab industry could hurt too. Phillips says anything from packing and shipping companies to ice companies will feel the effect.

Over time, Phillips adds he'll be forced to sell un-picked crabs, driving the supply of them up and the price for them down.

Larry Palley, a waterman who supplies bait to crabbers, worries he'll feel the effect too - ultimately losing his job.

"In Dorchester County, you don't got much opportunity to work. What else do you do around here? We haven't got no businesses around here that we could just go do something else. This is a way of life and heritage," Palley said.

Phillips says a number of the H2-B visas were given to businesses in the South, following natural disasters needing workers for cleanup.

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