Thursday, May 3, 2018

Who's Gonna Pick Your Pretty Little Crabs?

Maryland's seafood industry is in crisis: Nearly half of the Eastern Shore’s crab houses have no workers to pick the meat sold in restaurants and supermarkets.

They failed to get visas for their mostly Mexican work force, including many women who have been coming north to Maryland for crab season for as long as two decades. The Trump administration for the first time awarded them this year in a lottery, instead of on a first-come, first-served basis.

“This is going to cause the price of crab meat to go out of sight,” said Harry Phillips, owner of Russell Hall Seafood on Hooper’s Island. “There’s not going to be hardly any Maryland crab meat.

“It looks like it’s a matter of time before they’re going to shut all of us down.”

Visa shortages have been a perennial issue for the crab industry since the last generations of Eastern Shore women who once picked crabmeat aged out of the tedious seasonal work. In the 1980s, crab houses started bringing workers from Mexico through a program that lets them live and work in the United States during the warmer months and then return home in the winter, when watermen are prohibited from crabbing.
Of course, crab picking used to be a job for Americans, predominantly black women, who picked crabs in summer, and went on unemployment in winter. I wonder why they stopped? Is it that foreign workers were cheaper or welfare is easier? Both? You can do like everybody else, either pay well enough to hire Americans to do the job, or build a robot that's smart enough to do it.

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