Seafood Industry Leaders Meet, Unsure of Crab Picking Season - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Seafood Industry Leaders Meet, Unsure of Crab Picking Season

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If you're planning on buying crabs - either live or steamed - prices vary widely depending on location. If you're planning on buying crabs - either live or steamed - prices vary widely depending on location.

HOOPER'S ISLAND, Md. - Maryland seafood leaders say their applications are in. Now, they wait to hear whether they get their H-2B visas.

The visas grant hundreds of migrant crab pickers temporary stay in the U.S. during Maryland's crab season.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security used a lottery system to pick which businesses got visas.

As a result, at least half of the Eastern Shore's eight crab houses were not selected, but eventually, those crab houses did get their visas, leaving just about two months for them to pick and sell crabs.

On Wednesday, seafood industry stakeholders and leaders filed through the door at Old Salty's Seafood in Hooper's Island. WBOC wasn't allowed inside to listen in on the meeting, but Aubrey Vincent of Lindy's Seafood stopped to explain why this year's crab season could get a lot worse.

"The truth of the matter is you've got a supply and demand issue," Vincent said. "Right now, it's a free-for-all for 33,000 (visas) and until Congress steps up and makes the changes that need to be made, we will never know."

Vincent and many other crab house owners are crossing their fingers they'll get their H-2B visas in time for the season. It's unlikely though - over 90,000 applications were filed this year out of the 33,000 the U.S. government has available.

Vincent says she can't afford a repeat of last year. For months, many picking houses sat empty with no crab pickers in sight.

"I don't think we could take many seasons understaffed," Vincent said.

Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industry Association President Jack Brooks says that this year the visas may come on a first-come first-serve basis instead of a lottery. But Brooks says until the U.S. government raises the 33,000 visa-cap, he can't be sure.

"It's very, very difficult," Brooks said. "We'll commiserate about it a little bit and hope that things get fixed here somehow."

Brooks also says they could hear back from the U.S. government as soon as this Friday after Congress votes on the federal spending bill. Even then, Brooks says he's not sure if there will be any mention in the bill about raising the H-2B visa cap.

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