Md. crab processors say without enough workers, they’ll close for season

Seven of Maryland’s eight largest crab processors say in a new survey that if they don’t have enough temporary workers, they won’t open for this year’s crabbing season which starts April 1.

In the survey, conducted for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, all eight said the limited availability of H-2B visas under the state’s lottery process creates uncertainty harming their businesses.

Some boats and processing plants have been suffering from a worker shortage in recent years rooted in changes to the visa program.

All agreed that the H-2B program allowed their business to grow because of the availability of foreign workers. About 500 foreign workers are needed every year in Maryland’s crab processing plants.

Without the program, overall crabber income in Maryland could drop by up to $12.5 million, with processor sales sinking by between $37 million and $49 million. The overall hit to the state’s economy, the report assessed, could be upwards of $150 million.

Gov. Larry Hogan has called on federal leaders to increase the number of H-2B visas beyond the current cap of 66,000 nationwide.

Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported the Trump administration plans to make 45,000 more visas available, but no official announcement has been made.

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