WASHINGTON — Maryland’s Board of Public Works has approved putting $375,000 toward a marketing campaign to help the state’s seafood industry, which has been hit by a labor shortage.
The vote on Wednesday is intended to help the crab industry after a change in the federal HB2 visa program left a number of Eastern Shore crab houses without the seasonal foreign crab-processing labor they’ve depended on for years.
The money approved by the BPW will go to a Maryland Department of Agriculture program that markets seafood sales.
Jay Newcomb, owner of Old Salty’s Restaurant, in Fishing Creek on Hooper’s Island, said he’s been unable to open the doors of his processing plant. “We’ve been closed the entire season, and here it is now almost Fourth of July week and we haven’t processed a pound of crabmeat.”
Newcomb said the state has been helpful in promoting Maryland crabmeat, even before Wednesday’s action by the Board of Public Works, and he appreciates the $375,000 investment in promoting the state’s seafood industry, ”But as it is now, we don’t have the Maryland crabmeat to sell to customers.” Newcomb says his restaurant features crab cakes and seafood dishes stuffed with crabmeat, but he can’t offer those specialties.
He’s also spent $10,000 on the plastic tubs and cups in which customers buy their crabmeat. “That’s a $10,000 investment that I’ve got sitting there in storage that I probably won’t use this summer. I’ve got nothing to put in those cups.”
Newcomb said the situation is frustrating. “All we want to do is work, and promote our county and our state.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement, “We remain hopeful that this issue will be resolved at the federal level, but in the meantime, we are doing all we can at the state level to support this iconic industry.”
Hogan and U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland, have been working to get the federal government to issue more visas.