Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Crabs Abundant, Pickers Scarce

Chesapeake Bay blue crabs plentiful, but plants lack migrant workers to pick meat
Virginia’s blue crab season opened strong Monday as watermen returned to Chesapeake Bay docks with bushels full of the normally dormant crustacean. “This is unprecedented. We’ve never seen it this early,” said Johnny Graham, president of Hampton-based Graham & Rollins Seafood, one of the state’s largest crab processing plants.

The state’s commercial crab season begins every March, but the first few weeks are usually lean because most crabs have not stirred from their winter resting spots at the bay floor. This year is different because warm air temperatures — 3 to 7 degrees above normal since November — kept the bay and its tributaries from getting too cold.
There is some concern, however, that the good times won’t last. Large processors, such as Graham & Rollins, say they struggle to find people willing to perform the tedious and modest-paying task of picking meat from crabs. They say they’re forced to hire migrant workers under the federal H2-B visa program.

Delays in the application process have Graham worried that workers from Mexico won’t arrive until mid-April at best. Meanwhile, he said he does not have enough local workers to meet the demand.
In recent years, the crab picking industry on the Eastern Shore has become very dependent on migrant workers to pick crabs and work in the fields, despite high levels of unemployment and poverty.  I wonder why...

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