Crab Processors Emphasize Need for Reliable Access to Seasonal Workers

News Release, Maryland Department of Agriculture

ANNAPOLIS, MD—Maryland’s Best Seafood, a marketing program within the Maryland Department of Agriculture, today released a survey measuring the economic impact of the state’s crab industry and the importance of the federal H-2B temporary visa program. Secretary Joe Bartenfelder joined the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industry Association at an event on Hoopers Island to discuss the results of the survey and the critical role the seafood industry plays in many Maryland communities. 

“Blue crabs are an integral part of our state’s heritage and our economy,” said Secretary Bartenfelder. “The world-class crabmeat produced by Maryland processors relies heavily on the availability of seasonal labor via the H-2B visa program. This survey reinforces what we have learned in previous years: a lack of reliable access to H-2B workers poses a major threat to the future of this iconic industry.”

Maryland’s Best Seafood contracted Market Solutions, LLC, to survey the state’s eight largest crab processors to determine the industry’s economic impact and how it is affected by the availability of H-2B workers. All eight crab processors surveyed agreed that the current lottery system for awarding temporary visa requests creates uncertainty that hurts their businesses, and that limiting the number of available H-2B visas hurts Maryland’s seafood industry as a whole. 

Seven of the eight crab companies indicated that they would not open for the 2020 crab season without adequate H-2B workers. The shuttering of these processors would severely impact the supply of “True Blue” Maryland crabmeat, as well as the livelihoods of American workers who rely on the industry for employment, including commercial watermen, restaurants, and local businesses. Without these seasonal workers, the survey shows that income for watermen would drop by $12.5 million; processors would lose $37-$49 million in sales; Maryland would lose 914-1,367 jobs, and the overall hit to the state’s economy could be $100-$150 million.

In 2019, the survey participants bought more than 14 million pounds of crabs from 416 local watermen at a value of $19 million and directly employed 123 American workers. These businesses supplied crabmeat to 243 restaurants, 94 foodservice distributors, 182 retailers, and 2,300 consumers directly, for a combined $36.7 million in total sales. 

The full report, “Impacts of the H-2B Visa Program for Seasonal Workers on Maryland’s Seafood Industry and Economy,” is available on the department’s website

“Without these temporary workers, and without an end to the arbitrary lottery system, local seafood processors will be unable to open for business or be forced to significantly reduce their operations,” said Governor Larry Hogan in a January 21 letter to federal officials requesting an increase in H-2B visas in support of the industry. “Another year of hardship could permanently damage Maryland’s sustainable seafood industry.”

The H-2B visa program is capped at 66,000 visas per year, though the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is authorized to release up to 64,716 additional visas at the secretary’s discretion. 

After a shortage of H-2B visas in 2018, Maryland’s Best Seafood partnered with Maryland Public Television to produce “Maryland Crabs: Tradition & Taste.” The film is available here.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...