For the second straight year, Governor Larry Hogan is urging the federal government to increase the number of available H-2B Temporary Work visas to assist in the state's seafood industry and supply chain. Typically between 370 and 550 H-2B seasonal workers are needed each year in Maryland’s 23 licensed crab picking houses.
But the U.S. government only gives out 66,000 visas a year, and normally they are split evenly between workers starting in the first half of the fiscal year (October-March) and those starting in the second half (April-September). The temporary work visas are issued via a lottery system, which according to Hogan, creates an annual challenge.
“We cannot—and I will not—let these hardworking Maryland businesses fail on our watch. I ask that you partner with your colleagues and the administration to find a long-term and more permanent solution to this critical workforce issue, such as an exemption from the annual H-2B visa cap, as is done for fish roe processors, to protect the viability of Maryland’s crab processing industry and those who rely on it economically,” wrote Hogan.
As it is right now, the seafood industry only expects to receive 10 percent of the workforce it needs.
A study by the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industry Association in partnership with the Maryland Department of Agriculture found that such a shortage could cost the state over 1,000 jobs and create a $141 million hit to the economy.
In the event the cap is raised and they are able to fill the positions as needed, the industry could pump up to $32 million into the economy, and that's not counting what restaurants then sell and make off the product.
Last year, a survey from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources found the estimated number of crabs in the Chesapeake Bay to be at a 14-year low.
Hey, maybe if we let the price of crab picking labor rise to its natural level without importing cheap immigrant labor, picked crab meat would become expensive enough to cut down the number of crabs harvested, and the population would rebound. Just a thought.
The Wombat is back at The Other McCain with Rule 5 Sunday: Return From Reno Double-Scoop Edition.