Brief - The Hustle

Another reason to be crabby on Monday: Maryland’s shellfish industry going belly-up

Written by Conor Grant | Sep 23, 2020 9:09:50 AM

Maryland dominates the US crab industry (the Chesapeake produces 50% of the country’s blue crab) — but a crippling labor shortage is leaving 40% of the state’s crab businesses high and dry.

What a shellfish move…

Crab picking — which involves arduous physical labor, low wages, and some stanky sea critters — is typically carried out by seasonal workers who travel to Maryland from Mexico on the H-2B visa program.

But, a new law changed the system from first-come, first-served to a lottery and, in turn, dropped the number of visas awarded from 500 to just 300. Now, half of Maryland’s 20 crab processors will be left clawing over nonexistent cheap manual labor.

Kiss your crab-cakes goodbye

The already kingly price of crab will skyrocket now that crabmeat is so much more expensive to produce. The shellfish industry — which reels in $600m in Maryland alone — will lose millions in revenue if even a few crab producers close.

Local lawmakers — who think the situation stinks like low tide — are lobbying the government to award more visas and bail out the floundering industry. In the meantime, get ready to put on your waders and set some traps if you’re hungry for crab.