VIDEO: Crab Crisis: Chesapeake Crab Houses Facing Worker Shortage

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Guest workers from Mexico have been teh backbone of teh crab-picking business in Chesapeake Country since teh 1980s. 

Guest workers from Mexico have been teh backbone of teh crab-picking business in Chesapeake Country since teh 1980s. 

There are few things more quintessentially Chesapeake Bay than the blue crab. Prized for its succulent, sweet meat, millions of the ornery crustaceans end up in seafood houses and supermarkets each summer as picked meat that costs upwards of $45 a pound.

Since the crabs are protected by hard, weaponized exoskeletons, getting at the tasty meat inside is tedious and challenging work. Before the 1980s, crab processing plants could rely on the local workforce to get the job done. Today, few Americans are willing to do the job. Instead, Mexican workers on temporary visas do much of the work. They are permitted to work for the crab season before returning to their home country in late fall.

This year is different. Instead of getting their H-2B worker visas on a first-come-first-served basis, crab processing plants were granted visas on a lottery basis. The policy change caused a 40 percent reduction in visas, which left some crab processing plants out in the cold. This video has more.

Some crab houses remain shuttered awaiting new workers, while others eventually received their H-2B workers. “I don’t know what we would do without them,” says G.W. Hall Seafood co-owner Robin Hall.